13-12-2013: Harry Potter: Cloaked Conspiracy
 

Prologue: Reminiscences of Revolution

Godric's Hallow, 31 October 1981

It was a dark night; no stars to be seen, the moon hidden behind some clouds. Yet it wasn't merely a dark night; it was a 'dark' night. Something sinister lurked in the shadows. The presence of something evil could be felt. An ever impending doom. Vile, malicious, the kind of feeling that would make you turn tail and run for hours on end. Of course, it was Halloween; a feeling of dread, scary shadows, and unnatural happenstances were entirely to be expected.

But on this particular Halloween, the gates to - and from - the living world were even farther open than usual. Death had cast its reviled shadow over Godric's Hollow. A family would die.

It was an empty street; children, happily collecting candy, were nowhere to be seen, as if, somehow, they knew what was about to happen. Curtains were closed, although light could be seen from behind them. A shadow fell upon the street, barely visible in the dark, yet one couldn't not notice it. Had there been people on the street, they would have been petrified, their gazes drawn to this emerging blackness. There were none, however, and the black figure purposefully marched through the street with long strides. He was alone and hidden underneath a piece of black cloth that inspired terror and fear. He was alone, for his business was too important. Too secret.

He came to a halt, all of sudden, and turned around in the blink of an eye. He rose his hand, as if to grasp the air, as if he was searching for something. After a few seconds, he froze. He murmured something. Blue light appeared around the man, although nobody would have been able to trace its origin. Blue markings, too, visible in the air in front of his head, yet only for the smallest of seconds. A mighty roar and a tidal wave of energy spelled the end of the light. It also spelled the end of parts of the street, and half of a house; the shock wave had vaporised parts of the pavement.

Yet, attached to the now-destroyed pavement, next to a scorched and collapsing house, stood another house. It was the strangest of things, really; a whole house appearing out of nowhere. A house, so unlike any of the other houses on the block, a princely home, fit for a nobleman - indeed, it was no house, it was a manor. Its white marble bricks shone oddly in the eerie darkness of the street, but after a few seconds, the glowing ended. What would have fit in a movie - the protagonist finally finding the item he or she was looking for, accompanied by an epic choir and an angelic glow - now looked like a devastated manor, inhabited, yet far short of its glory days.

The man strode inside, the door swinging open for no apparent reason at all, save the commanding aura of the man. An invisible barrier of light grey became visible the moment the man walked through it. It promptly cracked and fell apart, too, and now, voices could be heard.

"It's him!"

A tiny smile surfaced on the man's face. A malevolent smile. Still walking with long steps through the hallway, he heard two adults rushing away.

"Go, take him - Go! I'll hold him off! I... I love you! Now go! Save him!"

A man's voice. Someone ran away. Something - a table? - was thrown on the ground. And then - a cry. A baby's cry. The man's smile grew. He reached the end of the hallway and paused for a moment. He lifted his hands, and a strange wind began blowing around him. After mere moments, the roaring sound of a storm drowned out all other sounds. Paintings, candles, and even pieces of the wall flew around him in a whirlwind of power. Then, he pushed.

His arms shot forward like lightning. In less than a tenth of a second, the door was completely blown away. A storm had been unleashed, an explosion of magic, ravaging everything in its path. Only a second later, an eerie silence hung in the air. The hallway looked ready to collapse, missing various stones and decorations. But the room he now stood in wasn't 'ready to collapse', no, it was a warzone, it had collapsed ten times over. Taking in the sight of his work, of a job well done, he saw that a table had been put in front of the door. A table, of which now only splinters and dust remained. A table, meant to protect the other man in this room. A man, barely recognisable as one, split in numerous pieces, flattened and utterly destroyed by the storm. A man once known as James Charlus Potter, now smeared out over the whole room; blood, bone, and flesh was everywhere. The room, once perhaps a dining room, now looked like the epicentre of the detonation of a nuclear bomb.

A job well done indeed. But he had work today, as indicated by a baby's cry, coming from upstairs. A pity the Potter patriarch had to die. He had been one of the more reasonable purebloods. After quickly repairing the staircase, he went upstairs. He didn't need to use any magic to determine where his target was, for when he arrived at the upper floor, a flash of red hair shot out of a room. Probably intending to surprise him - which was funny, really - but doomed to fail. She couldn't even fire a single spell before she was slammed against the wall.

There was no escape possible from a pocket dimension, save for the designated entrance and exit spots. Portkeys work only in the dimension they've been created, and traditional apparition fails outright. The house, having been hidden inside a pocket dimension, and having also been Fidelius'ed, was the perfect fortress. And the perfect death trap.

"So, Lily Evans. Muggleborn. Strange, isn't it? Yes, James Charlus Potter was a reasonable man, that much I admit. And yet he valued tradition and ideology over the oppression of many thousands. Is that the selfless, honourable man you know?"

He smiled. She cried, silently, shaking her head.

"Have you ever realised, Evans, that he, through passivity, accepted and even enforced the laws that discriminate against you - and all other muggleborns? The laws that would have your friend Remus Lupin locked up in Azkaban? The laws that would see you be little more than a toy, a sex-slave, dare I say?"

"NO!" She cried out in horror. "That is FALSE! James was an honourable man, a good man, how DARE you?" She spat and kicked, trying to break free from invisible barriers. Truly there is no fury like a red-haired woman's.

"Perhaps. I offered him my hand in friendship. Alas, he declined. And I make the same offer to you, Lily Evans. All I require is your child. Harry James Potter. Regardless of your choice, I will take him. Think, Evans. Muggleborns are prided on being more rational than pureblooded bigots. Do you honestly think you can stand against me? What difference will it make if you die here or not? You knew it would come to this, even before he was born. You were told of the prophecy, were you not?"

She kept shaking her head.

"So you do not know the precise wording of the prophecy?"

He looked into her eyes, preforming silent and surface-level legillimency. She did know about the prophecy, but not the exact wording.

"A pity. I don't know whether this was a smart move, or an incredibly dumb move by Slughorn - or were it the Blacks? No matter. I assume you reject your chance at living in a world free of bigotry and oppression?"

At this point, she lay against the wall, rocking back and forth, wand having fallen from her hand. The effects of a Dementor's Shroud - Veil, Cloak, Mantle, however you want to call it - are terrifying beyond belief. If one was exposed to it long enough, he or she would become little more than a crying, shaking blob of flesh, continuously tortured, beyond any hope of recovery. No wonder, then, that with Riddle wearing one, Lily Evans lay on the ground, shaking and crying.

Without looking back, he walked into the room from which Lily Evans had emerged, but not before casting a gust of wind that slammed her against the ceiling, breaking her skull and killing her instantly. This room clearly was the bedroom of Harry James Potter, son of James Charlus Potter and Lily Potter née Evans. A mere baby, prophesied to be the downfall of so-called Dark Lord Tom Marvolo Riddle. He laughed internally. As if a baby whose sole ability was crying could best him. Indeed, a cry from the Potter boy seemed to confirm that this whole prophecy business was nonsense.

But dealing with fate was a fickle business, although he had come prepared. Out of his extensive repertoire of spells, he would use Avada Kedavra. Direct and to the point, but also bland and uncreative. Dark magic - an Unforgivable, even - fuelled by emotion, fuelling addiction and desire. He detested it, but it was the best way. He pointed his wand and cast the spell. Two words.

"AVADA KEDAVRA!"

He shouted - screamed, even - because the curse is fuelled by emotion, and he didn't want to leave anything to chance. Green light shot out of his wand, heading straight for the boy's head. The beam seemed to hit, although the green light of the curse made it impossible for him to see the boy. The room didn't glow green as much as it usually should have, though. Instead, the room glowed blue, just like the blue light in the street, a few minutes ago. The room seemed to spin around, a vortex of blue centred on the corpse, still hidden from view by the light. The green light of Death was sucked up by this vortex. The vortex expanded, sucking in more and more, devastating the room. He tried to penetrate the vortex of blue light, to see the boy, to know with absolute certainty that he was dead, but he couldn't. He swayed, simultaneously pushed and pulled by the growing vortex. He lost his balance, against the overpowering force of the whirlwind.

Of course, he couldn't apparate away, and of course, the portkey he carried on him all the time didn't work. Fumating in these circumstances would probably destroy his molecular integrity, there was too much chaos to flame away, and his house elves couldn't reach him. He felt himself being pulled in the vortex. He knew it would consume him. He knew anyone else would die then and there, but not him. Never him. He had a plan.

The pull was too strong, his body stretched thin and fading away in the maelstrom. A gold glow briefly overtook the blue glow, before disappearing just as quickly. Then, an ear-shattering explosion and a huge fire. The house burned to ashes in mere moments. And on those blackened lands, where once, a house had stood, now full of ash and small fires, a young baby glowed blue, the light flowing into him. And while the street burned, while the other houses collapsed into dust, and while its inhabitants screamed in terror, one man was watching.

"Interesting." He remarked. Unnoticed by anyone, he walked - glided? - over to the epicentre of the firestorm. The epicentre devoid of fire, strangely enough. He saw the last of the blue light fading into the baby, now unconscious. He picked up the black cloak lying next to the baby. A Dementor's Shroud, all that remained of the former Dark Lord. After casting a few spells, he disappeared. And the baby, still unconscious, was engulfed in fire.

The proverbial Helm's Deep had fallen. And with it, Tom Marvolo Riddle, Dark Lord of Britain. Many had fallen for his forked tongue and empty promises. Many had died fighting his forces of inhuman creatures and impure men. But in this manor, his power had been undone by the Potters, and all that remained was a small child - a baby, even. Such a peculiar creature, he didn't yet know how important he would come to be. He didn't yet know what exactly depended on him. Harry Potter, heir and all that remains from House Potter, had saved Magical Britain from revolution and terrorism. Or had he?

Chapter I: Growing Up Black

Grimmauld Place, 1965

He had woken up early. What child wouldn't, when it was his birthday? The party would be boring, but the food would be delicious! And the presents! Presents! With that thought, he jumped out of bed. He wanted to wake them all up. Little Reggie, and his father, and even his mother! But he had learned that he shouldn't. He would have to wait, his father had said. But Reggie wouldn't mind, right? But his mother and father would. And Reggie liked his sleep. Hmmm...

Oh! He could go wash himself! That would make his mother and father proud, and it would mean he'd get his presents faster! Young Sirius Black, just turned six years old, climbed out of bed.

And there he stood, in his father's room. Fully washed, fully clothed, the perfect example of a pureblood heir apparent. He was rather proud of himself; he had made no mess, hadn't unduly awoken anyone, and most importantly of all, his mother had approved! She had found nothing to complain about, at least. And his father had smiled and nodded! He had carefully eaten breakfast too, trying his hardest to remember proper etiquette. He thought he had succeeded though!

He was slightly envious of Regulus; he didn't have any trouble with dull adult stuff such as etiquette, and his parents loved him for it. Secretly, he wondered if Regulus truly was a child. What child didn't like to play pranks, to have fun, to play with toys? Well, come to think of it, most children he knew... All of them were dull and boring, pretending to be old adults, talking about boring topics, reading boring stuff, and finding the proper way to drink tea more important than the latest broom; a Cloudcatcher 7, specifically made for children by a company from New Zealand. It wasn't the seventh broom though, so he wondered why it had a seven in its name. Maybe because seven was a powerful number. Oh, how he hoped he would get the broom! Even Regulus had been excited - to promptly inform everyone around that seven was a powerful number, which caused all the adults to glower in praise. Sirius had known that too though, but that was seen as stealing Regulus' moment of fame. Of course. Regulus could never do anything wrong, and Sirius could never do anything right.

Still, it was fun flying around with Regulus, and they loved each other. Maybe they'd both get the broom? That'd be awesome! Regulus was perhaps the only one who somewhat understood him, although Regulus always encouraged him to become boring and dull too. Was he really that weird, that he liked playing and joking and making noise and all that? From the stories he had read, that seemed like how children should behave... But the stories were fictional of course, so they could be wrong. Well, he didn't like his parents' lack of attention, and it would be nice to be praised like Regulus was, so he supposed Regulus had a point. Perhaps he should try to curtail his 'weirdness'. Which is why he had tried his hardest the last few days. And it clearly had paid off!

Instilled with pride, he was shaken out of his thoughts by his father's voice.

"Son. You know we have been disappointed in you. You're a brat, uncaring for your betters, completely ignoring proper pureblood behaviour, always running around and making a mess of everything - ..."

Well. That was one way to utterly destroy his newfound pride...

"... - But you have changed. We have seen you trying the past few days. We have seen you remembering your lessons on etiquette and proper behaviour."

And that was one way for his pride to reach new heights. He was being praised!

"Your mother says you are acting, purely to get presents. Which would be fitting of a Slytherin. None the less, she acquiesced to reward you."

Was it the broom? Could it be?

"You, as our oldest son, are by right entitled to be our heir. However, I, as both your father and paterfamilias, can remove this privilege, should I so desire. Your mother and I have discussed the matter, and have decided to confirm your heirship. You, Sirius Orion Black, are now formally and officially heir to our family."

It was nice, of course, that his parents finally favoured him over Regulus... But on the other hand, his parents always adhered to tradition, so this wasn't really unexpected.

"As heir, you will have a great responsibility to our family. You will have to uphold its good name, manage our acquisitions and finances, arrange marriages, and much more. Of course, with these responsibilities come privileges as well; you will be educated in the complete arsenal of our family's magic, and, as heir of the main branch of the Black family, you will be first in line for paterfamilias of the whole Black pedigree. This, in turn, will award you even greater benefits, as well as even greater responsibilities."

His father smiled softly, probably thinking him to be overwhelmed by the information. But he wasn't, he understood everything! He wasn't confused, he was disappointed. He smiled back weakly, but felt tears welling up in his eyes. There was no broom. Why had he even expected it? Since when did his parents know the word 'fun' after all?

"But we have another gift for you, son."

... Had they... Really?

"This, -"

His father unveiled something from underneath his cloak.

"- is titled 'De Sanguis Antiquissimorum Purissimorumque'; 'About the Blood of the Most Ancient and the Most Pure'. It is a self-updating book detailing all the ancient families. Therefore, over the centuries, it has come to contain almost all British families, as well as quite many foreign ones. This is an artefact beyond price, son, so I expect you to treat it well. It is a great honour, but worthy of an heir."

His father smiled more openly now, and expectantly held the book out to him.

"Happy birthday, son."

But he didn't take the book, and he didn't smile. Instead, he let his tears flow freely and ran away to his room, leaving a dumbfounded father behind.

"YOU'RE STUPID! I HATE YOU!"

A scream full of anguish, a door slamming shut, and then silence.

Grimmauld Place, 1970, the second day of Christmas holidays

"NO! I do not care, mother! You can rot in hell with your pureblood crap! I -"

To say that the Christmas holiday was unpleasant for young Sirius Black was a gross understatement. Eleven years of enduring etiquette, tradition, manners, social parties, and worst of all, pureblood rhetoric. Eleven years of no freedom at all. Eleven years of grooming and moulding, so that Sirius Orion Black would be ready to uphold the proud name of Black in school. So that he could seek out useful acquaintances, powerful allies, and, perhaps, a worthy wife.

But Sirius' spirit was hard to break. Indeed, eleven years he had fought a battle of wills with his family, and so far, he had won. Oh, his first friend had been acceptable enough; the House of Potter was powerful - and had Druella Black not married Charlus Potter, James Charlus Potter's father? - but the rest... The Lupin family was apparently 'an isolated band of half-bloods and muggle filth reproducing through incest alone' - ironic and improbable, to say the least - while the Pettigrew family was 'a host of roaches polluting Britain's finest with their French roots, their weaknesses, and their failure as part of mankind'.

Truly Walburga Black was a lovely woman. And then there were the so-called mudbloods; 'poisonous pigs fit for slaughter'. Of course, the fact that he was in Gryffindor - not Slytherin - merely compounded the problems; this was 'an eternal stain upon the House of Black, yet not one entirely unexpected, given your naiveness and foolish idealism'.

Yes, to Walburga Black, Sirius had failed in his duties to the House of Black. He should be seeking out powerful allies and a good wife, worthy enough to ensure the continual of the House of Black. Connections are everything, as the upstart Malfoys know well. With Sirius in Gryffindor, it would come down to the other members of the Black family to counteract the influence and deceit of House Malfoy. Because, instead of doing all that, Sirius, immature and childish as he was, was pranking and joking and treating Hogwarts as a theme park. Where he should be learning, he slacked. Where he should be socialising, he confined himself to Gryffindor rabble. Where he should be building alliances, he pranked anyone and needlessly antagonised everyone.

Orion said he had changed for the better. That he was less rebellious, less childish, and less immature. That he took his studies just a bit more serious, and that he had cultivated cordial relations with respected young purebloods. But she didn't see it. And this attitude was not acceptable. This was not how he had been raised - Regulus was a perfect example of proper pureblood upbringing - and this most certainly was not becoming of a Black - let alone of the heir ascendant! The impudent brat, the immature child, needed to be taught a lesson he wouldn't forget.

"... - Never be - ..."

"Crucio."

She coldly intoned, interrupting Sirius' rant. It was as if the world had frozen. Everything was silent, tranquil. The red beam of light could be mistaken for a warm source of light. But then it hit the eleven year old child. And he screamed. The world ended. A devastated wasteland of excruciating fire. And he screamed some more.

Grimmauld Place, 1970, the third day of Christmas holidays

"... - Heir! Not an enemy! Thi - ..."

"Eleven years Orion, eleven years! And still no true Black! The rascal needed to be taught a lesson before he defiles our name further - and not an enemy? He may as well be! The child was sorted in Gryffindor - GRYFFINDOR! By Thor, with that Ridd - "

The screeching sound of his mother's voice suddenly stopped. A deadly silence hung into the house. Sirius' mind screamed at him to run away; he was eavesdropping on a heated argument between his parents. An argument, apparently, about him. About yesterday. About his torture. And this foreboding silence could only mean one thing.

"SIRIUS ORION BLACK! YOU ARE A DISGRACE TO OUR NAME, YOU - ..."

She started talking - no, screeching - before she even threw open the door. But his father interfered.

"No, Walburga, this is not the time."

He then turned towards him; Sirius.

"Son. You know about - ..."

He paused momentarily, as if tasting his next word, and finding it particularly disgusting.

"... - Riddle, do you not?"

Sirius meekly nodded. His father kept staring intently at him, while his mother could barely control herself. He suddenly realised what they were expecting. Always speak, and do so with two words.

"Yes, father."

"What do you think of it?"

The 'it' was stressed, as if saying 'him' would be a gross insult to the human race. Sirius was both relieved and worried. Relieved, because, for once, he could do the right thing - he could please them. They seemed to be worried about his loyalty, well, they could be assured he would never follow such an evil madman as Riddle. But worried, too, for he did agree with Riddle's views. Just not with his methods.

"Well, he does have his good points - ..."

That was the wrong thing to say, as Sirius himself had realised too. He really could do with some more tact and diplomacy. And earmuffs.

"YOU ARE NO SON OF MINE! TRAITOR! FIL - ..."

"Let him finish, Walburga."

The cold and calm voice of his father brought an end to the ear-shattering screeches of his mother. But his father wasn't amused, and certainly not pleased, at Sirius' response.

"No, that's not what I meant, I'll never join him! Or follow him, or support him! I - ..."

He took a deep breath and tried to appear more composed, as his parents liked him to be. Not a blubbering fool who rushes words, but a calm and collected man who thinks about every word before speaking. Of course, he was eleven, and besides, it was a load of crap in his opinion anyway.

"... - I know we have our differences. I do disagree with certain views and opinions sometimes expressed. But I disagree even more with killing, torturing, kidnapping... I will support Riddle's demise. I won't join him."

There. A nice speech to please his parents. His mother harrumphed, while his father nodded his head.

"Good."

His father said, before being interrupted by his mother.

"Yes. Very well. But clearly, you have much to learn yet, petulant child; eavesdropping on us, associating with undesirables, and defiling our family name at every opportunity - why, in my time, I would have been flogged, I would have been lucky to escape with both of my hands, you should respect your bett - ..."

"Come now Walburga. Today proved there is still hope for him. Let him have his peace, for now."

Luckily, his father interrupted his mother's rant. He wondered if his father really meant what he said; privately, he thought his father was just agreeing with his mother to prevent further rages and stop her outbursts. His father was a nice enough man, most of the time. He appeared as cold, calm, and calculating, but that was just his way of being nice. He had seen that the typical pureblood way of raising him wasn't working, and so he had opted for a 'wait and see' approach. Which meant that his father, unlike his mother, didn't constantly berate him. Although, he certainly had the ability to make anyone feel like a worthless fly whose only goal is to serve the Black family. He demanded power and respect by merely existing, and if anyone could lead the war against Riddle, it would be him. He wasn't a father, he was Father. There was no man more begetting of capitalisation and epithets than him.

Unlike his mother; an overgrown child throwing tantrums the moment even the slightest thing didn't go exactly her way. It really was a wonder that her vocal chords hadn't yet violently exploded. Had his mother suffered brain damage? Was it the inbreeding? A trauma? He had no answer for her behaviour. But it was pleasingly ironic; here was a woman always ranting about manners and etiquette, about 'conducting oneself with the proper decorum as is befitting of a noble pureblood and scion of the House of Black'. Obviously, her rage was none of that.

For now, his parents would probably let him be. His father would probably tell his mother to be more accepting, to tone down the rhetoric, so as to not push him towards Riddle. They didn't need to worry about that at all, but he'd gladly let them worry about it, if it meant this house would be a more tolerable place for him. If his father wouldn't intervene and stop his mother's rants, he strongly suspected he wouldn't be able to keep living here until his graduation.

Grimmauld Place, 1971, the first day of Christmas holidays

"Sirius." His father nodded in greeting, inviting him to enter his father's room. Why, he didn't know; as far as he knew, he had done nothing wrong. He had curtailed his rebellious act a bit; less pranks, more politeness towards various acquaintances, and all in all, he was well on his way of becoming an examplary pureblood.

He didn't like it at all, of course, but he couldn't risk being seen as a supporter of Riddle. He was a Gryffindor and had muggleborn friends - that alone was enough for most people to treat him as a stranger at best, a traitor at worst. On the other hand, he had made efforts to reach out to the other houses, to make friends with prominent members of society. Regulus had also introduced him to quite a few important people. He had tried - and succeeded, he thought - getting good grades and taking his study seriously. He still had fun with his friends - of course! - but he had reduced the amount of pranks or borderline bullying.

He privately congratulated himself on it. But was it worth it? That question had always been on his mind. Was it worth it, to curtail his natural character and innate traits, for acceptance by his family and pureblood society at large? To not be seen as a supporter of Riddle? Well... It probably was worth it. Maybe.

"Normally, an heir's training starts during the Yuletide holidays of one's first year at Hogwarts. Training in the art of duelling is then conducted under Odin's watch, culminating in one's introduction to the family's magic. Being held under the Cruciatus curse is no part of this training, as you are undoubtedly aware."

His father smiled softly in an apologetic manner. Had his father actually attempted to make a joke? It may have been in bad taste, but he hadn't expected his father to be capable of joking. He shivered and chose not to comment on it.

"Therefore, your training had to commence a year later; now. We will begin tomorrow. This will not be easy, and you will come to hate this holiday; you have missed your first Yuletide training, which will make this even harder for you. For now, I want you to study this."

His father pointed at a book on his desk, titled 'The Heir's Heritage'. After a moment of silence, thinking himself dismissed, he picked up the book and walked towards the door.

"Two more things, son."

Only the fact that he had lived with his parents for twelve year allowed him to detect the faintest trace of humour in his father's voice.

"Your mother made it quite clear to me that she doesn't expect you to succeed. She hopes you won't, hoping that I will make your brother our heir. Prove her wrong, son."

His father was really acting strange now. He almost seemed normal. Almost. He nodded, and displayed a brief smile.

"Oh, and Sirius?"

He opened a drawer under his desk and grabbed a long and thin package out of it.

"Your reward, if you succeed."

He blinked. And suddenly, he saw writing on the package. 'Domini Caeli', a renowned and exclusive company producing unique, specialised brooms, fine-tuned for its customers; the rich and pureblooded elite.

He was six years old again. And he did something nobody, none at all, could have ever predicted; he hugged his father. But even stranger was how his father reacted; he hugged back. And that moment would live on forever in both of their memories. A moment of happiness, a father with his son, a child with his parent. A life-changing moment for both of them. A smile and a hug. A broom, even. But most importantly; acceptance. Trust. Peace. Happiness.

Grimmauld Place, 31 October 1981

"Krea - Father, you - The traitorous wolf, he - The Potters! Dead! Riddle is -"

A distraught man ran into a room, throwing the door wide open. Noble and cold, with its high walls made of cold, dark grey bricks, and its unlit chandelier up high. But also cosy and friendly, with its fireplace of dancing fire, casting cheery shadows across the room, and the luxurious chairs made from the finest dark wood, sporting a comfy cushion. A man of noble stature sat in this room, no doubt writing something important, with a quill in his hand and a scroll in front of him. A man, married, and father to two sons.

"Calm down, my son. We have raised you better than this. Do you gain anything by evocating incoherent statements, instead of waiting three seconds to gather your thoughts and speak calmly, in an orderly fashion?"

He spoke without looking up, the distraught man - his son, apparently - gasping for breath. After a few moments, having caught his breath, the son told his tale.

"Father, Jame - the Potters, they are dead! Riddle killed them, he must have, but - Lupin betrayed them! Us! They are dead! Murdered!"

The father looked up and slowly put his quill away. He stared at his son for a moment, in quiet acceptance of his ramblings. Then, abruptly, he stood up.

"We leave now. To Horace. Kreacher!"

An ugly creature - a house elf - appeared with a pop.

"Tell the family that we will depart. To Horace."

He added as an after thought, not even looking at the house elf, but instead, opening a drawer.

"Yes, master."

The house elf bowed and disappeared with another pop. The father pulled a small jar out of the drawer, and took some kind of black powder out of it. He threw it in the fire, which, oddly enough, turned green, instead of the usual red-yellow. Without looking back, he stepped into the fire and disappeared. His son hurried after him, saying words unhearable through the roaring fire.

Thus departed Orion Arcturus Black and his son; Sirus Orion Black.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, 31 October 1981

They were in a dark, tiny room, in one of the many dungeons underneath Hogwarts. It was dark, dusty, smelly, and obviously, long since abandoned. When the two Blacks had floo'ed to Hogwarts, they had arrived in the elegant hall of white marble, where all eighteen floo points were located, as well as three portkey circles and a tiny spot not covered in anti-apparition wards. This was the only place where non-staff members could gain entrance to Hogwarts, excluding the main gate. But nobody who didn't inhabit the castle would enter it through the main gate; the trek towards it would take an hour or so, through unstable and arduous terrain, slowly losing its structural integrity thanks to an attack by Riddle in the past. Still, the land close to the main gate was prime ground for the students to entertain themselves.

The Blacks, in the Entrance Hall, called for Horace Slughorn. Moments later, his head appeared in one of the floo-fires, clearly annoyed at the late hour. It was, after all, night, and Horace liked to use the night time to brew potions, experiment, or research. As it turned out, he had been trying to 'dissipate the magic of a Stupefy spell, allowing it to cover a large area, but keeping its power just as focused and concentrated as a normal Stupefy spell - like a muggle bomb but less barbaric'.

Upon noticing the distressed look of Sirius and the intense gaze of Orion, his annoyance was quickly replaced by a sense of foreboding and, of course, curiosity. After a short greeting, the Blacks demanded to come over, and immediately walked into the floo-fire. Horace was forced to retract his head in haste. Upon arriving in Horace's office, the Blacks were shoved into the next room available - which turned out to be this cold and dusty room, resembling the hideout of a convict.

There, Orion told Horace about the death of the Potter family. While all purebloods liked to talk in speeches, Orion could be surprisingly to the point if the situation demanded it. This explanation, therefore, lasted less than a minute, and left Horace cowering in fear.

"But if even the Potter wards were broken - Tell me, Orion, what will we do now?"

The tall, aristocratic man - Orion - looked like a visionary, a born leader. Firm and steadfast, powerful and mighty, he was a nobleman, or even a king. A man with charisma and the innate ability to make others do whatever he wanted them to. He was, as such, a perfect example of a Black. Horace, meanwhile, had fallen into disarray and despair. Sirius sat in a corner, listening, too upset to properly comprehend what was being said.

"Riddle is strong. But the Black properties are safe. Consider, Horace. The Potters were alone, in a safe house - not in their ancestral home. Potter Castle is as good as impenetrable, especially with the aid of their family magic, but this manor wasn't. It relied almost solely on the Fidelius. On a traitorous werewolf"

He spat the last word.

"You are safe Horace. We are safe. Not only were the Potters brought down by treachery, it is my belief that, while not gone, Riddle is vastly weakened. The world will enjoy a decade of peace, more or less. But we mustn't grow complacent. You must assure this, Horace."

He continued, his tone becoming both warning and threatening. Horace merely nodded. Then, the full meaning of Orion's speech struck him.

"Wait, Orion, you mean to say... Riddle is gone?"

Hope shone in his eyes.

"Perhaps - I doubt it. But for now, yes. Something changed. I cannot pinpoint what exactly, but Pollux and Cassiopeia agree. The threat of Riddle is gone, for now, rest assured."

"What about Ja - The Potters?"

Sirius spoke his first words, still in apparent slumber.

"They, too, are gone. Forever. Pollux and Cygnus went to the Potters. Nothing is left but ash and scorch marks. The street is blown up, and quite some muggles are dead. And the residue magic - Pollux assures me Riddle is gone, albeit not forever."

"This is..."

Horace couldn't find the words to express his relief and gratitude. Sirius merely sighed, and sank back into his self.

The Potters, his friends - gone. His best friend, James. The sweet girl, Lily. And their cute son - his godson - Harry. Gone. He would have brought them back in an instant, if he could. Even if it meant resurrecting Riddle, too. What did he care? He wanted his friends. His first, true, proper friends. His only friends - the sole people with whom he could be his self. Gone. And with them, Lupin. Another one of his friends. A werewolf. They protected him, helped him, even. Everyone would have shunned him, bullied him - perhaps killed him. But not them. They, the Marauders, took him in. They were brothers. And this is how he repaid them? By betraying their trust? Truly werewolves are all dark and evil creatures. On some level, Sirius knew they weren't - but the wolf had just confirmed the stereotype. Luckily, he should have been carted off to Azkaban by now. The traitor. May he rot and die. His friend. Former friend. Gone.

And then there was Peter, poor Peter, his little brother. Wormtail, always so enthusiastic and adoring. Oh, he was a bit of a coward, but not in a bad way. He just preferred a stable, safe, and good life. And from time to time, he was a true genius, with extraordinary insights and ideas. Peter. The only thing left of the Marauders. He'd visit him tomorrow. His last true friend.

As it turned out, Peter, too, was gone. Where or why, nobody knew. But his house was empty, devoid of anything indicating someone living there. Perhaps he feared that Riddle would come for him too, after murdering the Potters. Perhaps he feared Lupin coming after him, the backstabbing wolf that he was. Whatever the case, Peter had disappeared without leaving a single trace. And so, in one single night, the Marauders had died. Some literally, others figuratively. But the Marauders were gone. The inseparable band of brothers, separated and on their own. The end of an era. And Sirius wept.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, 1991

In the headmaster's office, Horace Slughorn was busy filling out some paperwork, mostly about funding and materials necessary for the various courses Hogwarts had to offer. It was a pleasant afternoon on a calm, if boring day. After more than a decade of hard work, Hogwarts had turned into an unrecognisable school. And a much better place too, if the majority was to be believed. Of course, these reforms had happened gradually over many years, and it had happened years ago. But still, Horace Slughorn was proud of what he had accomplished. Well, the Black family, mostly, but Horace was the figurehead and headmaster of Hogwarts, so the public would look to Horace, and not to the Black family. He could survive without the Blacks backing him; he had lots of carefully cultivated contacts and influence, after all, but the Blacks had made his life so much easier, so much better... He liked to think of himself as an honorary Black. He was invited to most family gatherings, and was treated as an important human being - he wasn't a tool, certainly. But he recognised that his life could take a drastic turn for the worse if he ended up alienating the Blacks. Well, so long as he had his comfort, his stature, and his luxurity, who was he to complain?

Then, however, a loud 'BANG' made him almost fall out of his chair.

"Come in already. And keep the noise down, will you?" He grumbled, his peaceful musings rudely interrupted. He glanced at the door - ah, Regulus, the deputy headmaster - while lowering his head again, to file some more papers. Always the papers. You'd be surprised how busy the life of a headmaster could be, especially if that headmaster was Horace Slughorn.

"Sorry Horace..." He at least had the decency to sound a bit ashamed, Horace thought. "But, sir!" Regulus' former excitement came rushing back tenfold. And he only called him 'sir' if something was amiss. Horace sat up straight and tore his gaze away from the paperwork. "Look, here, this letter, the name!" He waved a letter in Horace's face.

"Now calm down please, Regulus. What is this hubbub about?" He catched hold of the letter Regulus was still frantically waving in his face. It was an ordinary letter, to be sent to the upcoming first years, informing them about Hogwarts - the school which they would probably attend, now that they had gotten their letter - about the necessary supplies they would have to buy, and a few other technicalities.

"Yes, I see, an ordi - ..." He froze. He had just caught sight of the intended recipient of this particular letter. Instantly, his grumbly, mildly annoyed demeanour were gone. Replaced by ice cold seriousity.

"Does Orion know?" He demanded.

"N - ..."

"Or Sirius?" He interrupted Regulus. Before he could talk again - he subconsciously noticed Regulus opening his mouth - he continued. "Have you informed ANYONE?" He spat out the last word, nearly roaring.

"No sir!" Regulus hasted to inform him. Good. He was sitting on a wild-hot dragon egg, as the saying went. It would hatch any second now. But he, of course, had the moral obligation to inform Orion, and especially Sirius. And this wasn't about to become his problem to worry about, oh no, that responsibility would go to the Black family. He sighed in relief, and sagged back in his chair.

"Come with me, Regulus. Use my floo. Orion must be informed. And Sirius. Poor, poor Sirius."

Life as a proverbial tool had its benefits - and while he wasn't a tool, he certainly thanked the gods for these benefits now. Let the others worry about the boy. Harry Potter. The boy, who apparently, was still alive.

Chapter II: Brave New World

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon. A cloudy, grey-blue sky, let through a few pleasant rays of sunlight. One such ray fell right through a spotless, stainless, sparkling clean window, to arrive in a spotless, stainless, sparkling clean living room. In fact, the whole house could be described as spotless, stainless, and sparkling clean. One Mrs Petunia Dursley, lady of the house, laboured tirelessly to maintain it in these pristine condition.

It was a rather stereotypical household. The father; Vernon Dursley. He worked hard to earn money, at which he excelled with his cut-throat dog-eat-dog tactics. An avid reader of Atlas Shrugged, he would be, if only he lived in the USA.

The mother; Petunia Dursley. She worked hard to run the household - which came down to 'clean everything, cook food, and clean some more' - and exchanged the necessary pleasantries with the neighbours and other acquaintances - but spying on and gossiping about others were two other important activities she often engaged in.

The son; Dudley Dursley. He worked hard to... Well, he didn't work hard at all. Truth to be told, he was a fat and spoiled child. The opposite was true for the last member of this household. A member who didn't fit in this household at all. One who was no Dursley, nor shared their ideals and values, nor cared much for them really. This member was the scrawny survivor of Riddle's attempt at murder, and hidden hero of the British magical world. Harry James Potter. The boy who lived. The boy everyone thought was dead. The boy who knew nothing about his heritage. But that was about to change.

For on this Saturday afternoon, a ray of sunlight warmed Vernon's lap as he was watching television from his favourite spot, right next to the window. Let everyone peek into his rich-yet-modest household, let everyone see how content he and his family were. Then, three things happened; a cloud passed in front of the sun, a commercial interrupted the programme he was watching, and, most importantly - although he didn't know so yet - the phone rang.

Annoyed at all these minor annoyances, he stood up and waddled over towards the phone. As man of the house, it was his duty to deal with anyone who called his family, of course.

"Vernon Dursley." He stated in a neutral voice. It could be his sister Marjorie Dursley - Marge - in which case he'd be genuinely nice, for his sister was one of the very few people who deserved that. It could be his boss, in which case he'd be nice, if only to improve his career. It could be an acquaintance of his wife, in which case he'd be nice, to improve their social life. It could be a salesman, in which case he'd shut him up and spend the next hour ranting about stupid salesmen to nobody in particular. The person calling was none of these though. And given a thousand years, Vernon would never ever have guessed who - or what - was calling him now.

"Mister Dursley. I work for the Department for Education, and I'm calling you regarding a boy you, according to our information, have taken into your household. One Harry James Potter."

"Who wants to know?" Vernon replied in a gruff voice. He didn't like these government types, oh no, always drafting annoying laws to further restrict an upstanding citizen, always stealing money from hard-working taxpayers, always regulating what was and what wasn't allowed... No sirree, no big government for him!

"Regulus Black, sir. Mister Potter's parents have enrolled young mister Potter in an exclusive boarding school upon his birth. I would like to come over to your house tomorrow afternoon and discuss this unique opportunity with you, if that is acceptable?"

He froze. An eternity passed. He blinked. Another eternity passed. His mouth went dry. Too dry to talk. Yet another eternity passed. His mouth suddenly grunted - or attempted to do so. His arm moved of its own accord, and jerkily put down the phone.

But he didn't consciously notice any of this. He only noticed a major headache. A battering ram pounding against his mind's door. One battering ram, a dozen elephants, a thousand foot, battering and bruising the insides of his head. Cheering. Singing. And with every successful strike, a cheer; "Freak!"

"Freak!"

"Freak!"

--- --- ---

It was a sombre Saturday afternoon. A cloudy, grey sky, blocked out the warmth and comfort of the sun. Just like a certain phone call had blocked out any notion of positivity or normality from the troubled brain of one Vernon Dursley. Fortunately, as the saying goes; 'a misery shared is a misery halved'.

"Pet." Vernon spoke up, arising from his slumber. He had been sitting like a vegetable on his favourite couch next to the window for at least an hour. Aware of only three thoughts, endlessly whirling through his head like a violent, malevolent maelstrom; 'phone', 'freak', 'boy'. His unconsciousness must have detected his wife entering the house.

"Pet." A magic word, a metaphoric atomic bomb, to crush the hordes besieging his mind. Phone-freak-boy-BOOM! With that word, his consciousness returned to him. His mind rebooted, free of armies, free of war. He was back. Vernon Dursley, human, and most certainly not a vegetable - nor a freak!

"Yes my - Oh, Vernon! Is there something wrong?" She had rushed over to him the moment she entered the room, and was now mollycoddling him, eyes fraught with worry. In spite of himself, he smiled.

"Yes." He said in such a monotone voice that Petunia grew even more distressed. "Yes, my pet. There was a phone call. Phone. FREAKS! Boy!" He was relapsing in the old pattern. But no! He was the man of the house, he had to be strong, for his family if not for himself.

'BOOM!' went the table as Vernon's huge - and powerful! - fist came down upon it.

"The freaks! They called! The boy! Boarding school!" He snapped the words as if they were orders. Petunia's face grew in horror. "They're taking him! Tomorrow!"

"Oh my, Vernon!" Petunia shrieked, but then steeled herself. Ten years ago, she had decided. Today would be the culmination of her efforts. After today, she could only hope.

The freaks. The magicals. She had been content to ignore them, at first. Pretend that they did not exist. Although there had always been the repressed memories of her sister, who had been claimed by the magicals to live a fairytale of happiness and love. Oh, yes, she had been jealous, she could admit that. But then she had heard whispers of a dark lord, of an evil person called Tom Riddle. She had discovered that her dear sister hadn't voluntarily abandoned her so-called inferior, disgustingly normal family after all. No, the freaks had corrupted her, brainwashed her. Indeed, why else would her sister side with the freaks and their bigotry against normal folk?

Apparently, there had been a guy, Tom Riddle, who had used his magical powers against the freaks. He had seen the bigotry and prejudice of his fellow freaks. But he had realised that it was wrong. That normal people weren't inferior. That magical powers were caused by a freak mutation or something. He had seen all that, and he had acted. Peacefully, at first, but he achieved nothing. Of course, the freaks had convinced themselves of being oh so special, of being a superior breed. Why would they give up the comfort of knowing that they were better? So he had resorted to violence. And her own sister, descended from the very people Tom Riddle was fighting for, had chosen the side of bigotry and prejudice. That, Petunia knew, was impossible. Yes, she had been a self-centred freak, and yes, she had fully bought into the great lie of magical superiority, but Lily would never turn against her family. The obvious conclusion was that the freaks had brainwashed her.

And come to think of it, how could a whole society of freaks stay hidden? Again, the answer must be mind control and brainwashing. And why did they even stay hidden? Did those arrogant, egocentric freaks not realise how much they could help the common people? Were they that egoistic? Of course they were. They knew they were freaks, and their society as a whole must have a gigantic inferiority complex to combat. Hence the bigotry, hence the egocentrism. Because how better to combat the knowledge of being a bunch of freaky mutants than by convincing themselves they stood above the normal people? This all fit with what Petunia knew of psychology, and as such, she knew it was true.

But she would unearth this great lie, she would rid the world of bigoted freaks, all through her nephew; Harry James Potter. A freak, a mutant, no doubt. And now, the freaks had called. Now, they would come to claim her nephew.

She snapped out of her musings and saw that Vernon had calmed down. He turned his head sideways, locked eyes with her, and took a deep breath.

"Regulus Black." He spat. "Weren't his parents friends with a Black? Why have they never come to pick him up?" A bitter silence followed. "Hmpf. Freaks." He grumbled. Petunia waited patiently for him to finish. After a few more seconds, he said exactly what Petunia had thought he would. "We'll have to tell the boy, won't we?"

She nodded. "Yes." She gathered her thoughts. "Yes, Vernon, we will have to tell him." More was said and implied with those words than anyone could know.

"After dinner." Vernon decided. He was a man of action and quick decisions. He hated unknown factors, new variables, of which he had no control. This was tough for him, a man valuing stability. All he wanted was a peaceful, quiet life, caring for his family. Why couldn't society - be it freaks or the government - leave him alone?

He didn't deal well with uncertainty and inaction. So, after dinner. He'd tell the boy everything. It was a dangerous world out there, especially with the freaks. And yes, the boy was a freak himself. But by God, the boy was not merely a freak, he was his freak, and they wouldn't brainwash the boy to turn him against his family. Vernon Dursley would see no harm befall his family. Feeling a bit better, he stalked away, wearing a determined grin.

--- --- ---

"Boy! Come here!" His uncle boomed through the house. It was around seven o'clock, and while the house was usually occupied by two boys, only one of them was usually referred to as 'boy'. Only one of them happened to be home, too, sitting in his bedroom upstairs. The other one was playing outside with his friends.

Harry Potter looked up from his work; he had been drawing a large, fire-breathing dragon. He wasn't really talented, but he enjoyed drawing anyway. Without putting his work away - his family, and especially uncle Vernon, didn't like being kept waiting - he went downstairs to the living room, where both his uncle and his aunt sat down.

"Sit." Said his uncle, and sit he did.

An uncomfortable silence hung in the air. Nervously, he looked around, trying to find out if he was in trouble by reading his aunt's and uncle's face. All he saw were unmoving, unblinking faces, resembling statues. No thick, throbbing vein on his uncle's head - which was a very good sign! - only steely determination. At last, his uncle spoke.

"Boy, Harry, we... We have to tell you something." With these words, the dam broke and words rushed out of his uncle's mouth at the speed of light. "Yesterday, they called, to kidnap you, to take you to their school so you can become one of them, and -"

"They... You... You are a freak. They are freaks. Wizards. Witches. Toads and potions and wands and Hogwarts!" Interjected Petunia, cutting Vernon off. In the ensuing silence that followed, both took a moment to recollect themselves. Harry, meanwhile, sat dumbfounded on the couch and was pretty sure his aunt and uncle had gone insane.

"You're a wizard." Petunia started again. "Just like your father and mother. My sister. A witch. They went to a school called Hogwarts in Scotland. They will come to take you, to teach you their freakish ways in their castle. But it is so much worse than that..." She took a deep breath.

"Harry, normal people are not allowed to know that a whole society of freaks - of magical people - exists. Children are taken away from their normal families to be raised in this magical world. Families never see their children again. Kidnapped. Stolen by freaks. And sometimes, they even brainwash people. To make them forget about magic. To make them forget about their children, even."

"So... My mother..." Harry began.

"Yes! Kidnapped and brainwashed!" At this point, Petunia was almost screaming in righteous fury. "When she turned eleven, a letter came, informing us about magic and all that. And then she was gone. Taken. She came back during the summer holidays and Christmas. But the only thing she did was talk about turning rats into toads. She had no interest for normal people anymore. They were irrelevant. Weak and useless." Another deep breath.

"And then she came home one day, and we learned that a man - Riddle - was fighting against the brainwashing and kidnapping. He, despite being a wizard, fought for equality between normal people and magicals. No family should be ripped apart by those freaks. And your mother, my sister, she fought against this Riddle. She betrayed her whole family. Your parents died fighting against him. But you... You survived, Harry."

Harry had no comment, enthralled by this fantastical tale. After a short moment, Petunia continued.

"You were put on our doorstep with only a letter. Your parents had been killed, you had survived, and Riddle was gone. Now, we are a proper family, we accepted you. We couldn't let you freeze to death in the cold November night. We have given you a home, we have fed you, clothed you - haven't we been good for you?"

Harry nodded. Yes, they favoured Dudley over him, and he had to do some chores, but they did care for him in their own way. He had a bedroom, he had food and drinks, he had his art, or he could watch TV, or go outside. He didn't love his life, but he didn't hate it either. He knew some children had to starve because there was no food, and others were abused by their own parents. He wasn't. Eleven years old Harry was quite mature.

"But we're afraid Harry. Every day, we wonder if it was the right decision. Shouldn't we have taken you to an orphanage? It would have been so much easier. No freaks to worry about. No threats to our family. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Will you be kidnapped? Will we be brainwashed to forget all about you? We do not know. And we're afraid." From a passionate high, ranting about Riddle and the sheer psychopathy of the magicals, to a whispering low about her family, and indeed, her life.

"But don't worry boy!" Vernon jumped into the conversation. "They won't get us! We're Dursleys - even you - and family's most important! Those freaks may have brainwashed lesser families into insanity wards, but not us! They may have reduced lesser men to criminal filth and poverty-struck beggars, but not us! We Dursleys stick together! And if they ever harm you, boy, you tell me and I'll make sure the freaks will never do it again, mark my words, by God!"

With that, Vernon stood up and stalked away. Petunia looked at Harry, who sat frozen and shell-shocked on the couch. A thin smile of affection formed on her face.

"Go to bed, Harry."

Dazed and confused, he walked upstairs.

--- --- ---

He hadn't slept much, the past night. Who would expect him to; he had just been told the most fantastically insane tale anyone could think up - and that in itself proved its truth, didn't it? A lie so outrageous, so unbelievable, that it couldn't be a lie. So he was a wizard. He could do magic! How exciting is that? Magic, wizards, witches... Limitless possibilities. Soon, he could do everything he'd ever want to do! Well, he'd have to go to a school called Hogwarts, but there he'd learn all about magic, his aunt had told him. His parents had gone to this school too, and his mother had been a 'Head Girl', which sounded important. He had asked lots of questions throughout the whole day, about magic, school, his parents, everything he could think of.

His questions had revealed less wondrous aspects as well; there was a darker side to the fairytale of magic. His parents had died fighting in a magical war. A war against Riddle - what a weird name. Riddle had fought for equality and freedom or something. He didn't really understand, because that sounded good. But he did understand that kidnapping children, destroying families, killing people... That was wrong. It sounded like wizards viewed those who weren't wizards a bit like how humans viewed animals. And if all that his aunt and uncle had told him was true...

But soon, he would see for himself. This Regulus Black had said he'd meet them today. To be honest, Harry was way too excited to worry or to be scared. Magic must be absolutely amazing! He hadn't eaten much and had spent his time pacing through the living room until his uncle had sent him upstairs to his room. But come on, he, an almost eleven year old child, apparently possessed superpowers! Awesome! Who could blame him for his restlessness?

And then, looking out of his room's window for anyone approaching the backyard, the front door's bell rang. In seemingly less than a second, Harry had raced downstairs, but a quick look from his uncle convinced him to wait inside the living room, while his uncle opened the door. Another quick look, this time from his aunt, convinced him to actually sit down instead of pacing around.

"Hello, sir." Grumbled his uncle. While his uncle had been in a state of absolute panic upon learning his and his family's predictable and peaceful life would be shaken up by something so alien, foreign, and freakish as magic, his aunt had apparently calmed him down. It still took all of his self-control, and he really didn't like it, but once he had realised the inevitability of it all, he had adapted remarkably fast. After all, magic had now become a fact of life for him, and he could work with facts. He just couldn't handle uncertainty and unpredictability. So while he still didn't like it one bit, in roughly a day's time, he had come to accept it, and had resolved to learn everything there is to know about it.

"Mister Dursley, I presume?" Asked the man at the door. He was, in one word, a gentleman. His hair was short and pitch black, while his face was thin and tall. Aristocratic, too, defined by a thin nose and dark blue eyes. This man knew he was part of the elite, yet he was humble and modest enough, it seemed.

"Are you... -" Vernon cleared his throat. "A... A-"

"I am Regulus Arcturus Black." The man gave a bemused smile that was perhaps a tad condescendingly. "And yes, I am a wizard." Vernon looked the man over. Good clothes. Rich ones. But his attitude wasn't haughty or superior, like his wife had warned him for. He nodded.

"Very well. Come inside." After quickly looking around to see if any neighbours could have seen or heard anything - he saw nobody - he closed the door behind the two of them. Regulus walked inside the living room at once, without bothering to put off his shoes, which earned him a disapproving glare of Petunia.

"Ah, you must be Petunia? Regulus Arcturus Black, pleasure to make your acquaintance." He extended his hand, which Petunia shook warily, before noticing her glare. "Don't worry ma'am, my boots won't leave any stains or harm the floor in any other way." Her glare froze for a split-second before she nodded uncertainly towards a chair.

"Is that magic? Sir?" Harry spoke up. Regulus turned around to face him.

"Why, yes it is. And you must be..." He paused for a moment, taking in the full implications and gravity of this event. What was meant to be a question came out as a whisper full of awe. "Harry Potter."

"Yes, sir." Harry beamed. "So I can do magic?"

"Oh yes, mister Potter. And if your parents are any indication, why, you will make a fine wizard."

"Really? You knew my parents?" Harry's expression changed from happy and excited to one of wondrous amazement. Someone else who had known his parents!

"Not very well, I'm afraid, but..." Regulus hesitated. They had discussed what exactly he would say, of course, but it all depended on the execution. Oh, he was sure the child would be absolutely delighted to hear everything he could tell about the Potter family and the magical world as a whole, and he was also sure they didn't have to fear the child turning against them. But who could predict what would happen at Hogwarts? When the child would be exposed to the Malfoys - or worse, supporters of Riddle? No, better to give Harry Potter a push in the right direction.

"My brother is your godfather, mister Potter." There. He had said it. "He was the best friend of your father."

"Is he alive? Why hasn't h- Can I meet him? Did he fight against Ri-" A maelstrom of questions poured forth out of Harry's mouth.

"Why are you here, mister Black?" Snapped Petunia, intentionally interrupting Harry.

"Later, mister Potter." Said Regulus. So Riddle was a touchy subject, seeing as Harry had been interrupted? No doubt the muggles had filled Harry's head with their own half-truths. Indeed, it would make sense for them to support Riddle, if they only knew the basic picture. He'd have to work at dispelling these warped facts, if not outright lies. Better to do that away from the Dursleys, anyway. Thank you, Petunia.

"I am here to introduce you to the magical world, and if your aunt and uncle do not object, take you to Diagon Alley, where we will buy your school supplies." Gazing at the muggles, he continued. "Seeing as you all evidently know about the magical world, I could take mister Potter to Diagon Alley right now, if you would allow it?"

"Yes, that is fine. When will he be back?" Responded Petunia.

"Before dinner. Although, if you wish, I could ta-"

"No, he will eat dinner with us." Snapped Petunia with a surprisingly venomous voice. He chuckled silently; he had been about to propose taking Harry to meet his godfather, Sirius, and have dinner together to allow them to get to know each other. Of course, the muggles wouldn't have wanted that, but forbidding Harry from going would mean losing control over him. Of course, they were merely postponing the inevitable; almost all muggleborns ended up permanently breaking contact with their muggle family. He wasn't entirely unconvinced there wasn't some force at work at Hogwarts, helping this process along.

"Very well then. Shall we go, mister Potter?" The boy bobbed his head and raced towards his shoes and coat. A moment later, he reappeared, fully dressed.

"Hold my hand. Tightly. Don't let go, and don't be afraid." With these words, the duo disappeared, just as Vernon realised something.

"... But who's going to pay for all this, eh?" The two Dursleys sat in silence, one wondering about the speed of this... Thinly-disguised kidnapping, and pondering the implications. The other had more concrete worries, for he imagined himself sitting in tons of debt. Both agreed however; never trust a freak.

--- --- ---

It was a luxurious and grand room. Warm and cosy, too, with a floor made out of very expensive Firewood; orange and brown wood that gave off an unnoticeable golden and auburn red glow. Unnoticeable, but it gave the whole house a warm and fiery hue. It was a rich house too; the living room was huge and dotted with fauteuils, sofas, and couches, with small tables stationed at various places. The floor was covered by carpet, the walls sported various tapestries, and from the ceiling hung banners. All exceedingly comfortable and exceedingly luxurious. In the centre of this imposing room hung a crystal chandelier, which's matte white colour was the sole exception to the predominant red-orange-gold-brown colour scheme. While it was called a living room, its size and wealth exceeded that of most pureblood ballrooms.

Occupying this room were two old men. One had a young and rounded face with plucks of bright, white hair. The other had an older and wrinkled face with a long white beard. Both wore a dark red cloak, the first with open circles of a vibrantly bright red colour, the latter with stripes of a darker red colour.

"And why do you think I would deign myself to join your little... Organisation?" The last word was clearly said with disdain.

"We have similar goals. Toge-" The man was clearly beginning a dramatic speech of hope and promise and doom and despair, but he was cut short by the other.

"Similar, but not the same. I aim for something grander than you and yours. You're all too uncreative. Too cliché. Too low." Dismissive and insulting, but the man didn't seem to mind.

"Perhaps, but we have different goals as well, and yet-" He attempted to start anew, but was cut off again.

"Which will lead to infighting and the destruction of your ploys and plans."

"Compatible goals, although the specifics will be discussed in due time, after we have removed the opposition. I do believe your goals would be compatible with ours.

"Perhaps. I repeat, why? Why do I need you? What do I stand to gain? Siding with the mundanes - or even Riddle - would aid me much more in accomplishing my goals."

"Riddle is dead." Mumbled the man flatly, for the first time losing his theatrical tone and flair of dramatics. He was met with a blank face, shortly followed by a snort. The man chose to ignore the obvious falsehood.

"Give the mundanes a century, and they'll have invented immortality. Give them two, and mankind will have ceased to exist, to be replaced with gods. What do I stand to gain from joining you? Why would I do so, when the mundanes, and by extension, Riddle, will offer me a surer path towards my goals?"

"I see... So you have joined Riddle and betrayed us all?"

"No." The man laughed. "Riddle is... Amusing. But he will never truly succeed. He is an idealist, whereas I am a realist." He took a deep breath. "What you do not understand, is that you all are so far below me that it's like watching a few ants dance around. You are firmly entrenched into the magical world, and you lack the necessary historical outlook and perspective to be successful. But what can magic offer me? I know everything. And the magical world is stagnant, backwards, and decadent. It is the height of irony that dark lords and conservatives have caused the most progress in the British magical world, but it isn't much better elsewhere. Whereas the mundanes invent something revolutionary almost every day. Again, I merely have to wait a little longer - and you would have me wait more, were I to join you."

"Very well. There is a prophecy." In response, the other sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Why do you presume I am unaware of this?"

"The prophecy calls for you to join us."

"That is one interpretation. Of course, it is a risky one. You would cast us all as dark lords. You would be dooming yourself and your... Partner. Clearly, you expect to be able to best me, otherwise you would never have extended this offer." He smirked. "How foolish you are." Their gazes locked, silently judging each other.

"Not dark lords in a literal way. I have a particular talent for reading prophecies. 'Dark' would mean we operate covertly, as we already do. 'Lord' would mean we are powerful, as we already are." The other man chuckled lightly.

"Three will fight three, three must lose, one can win. You know the words. You know the risks. You cannot hope to stand against me. But a prophecy guaranteeing and hastening my victory is very convenient. If you are willing to lose, if you want to offer me unlimited power..." The man looked once more into the eyes of the other. "Why, I will gladly accept."

Chapter III: Home

He was pretty sure the world had just accelerated, or perhaps changed its tilt, or something else that would explain his dizziness. A moment later, he discovered that he, surprisingly, was right; his world had tilted, albeit vertically. Upon closer inspection - blinking really helped against this dizziness, he noticed - he felt a hand on his shoulder, preventing him from falling. He mumbled an apology and stood up straight, feeling the side-effects of teleportation slowl - Wait... Teleportation? Magic is so awesome!

"Did we... Did we just teleport?" He asked hesitantly; in his experience, most people didn't like questions. But the man - Regulus - gave him a kind look.

"We apparated, mister Potter. There is a subtle difference between teleportation and apparition. I won't bore you with the technical details, but if you are interested, apparition is more like throwing yourself at your destination, whereas with teleporting, you simply are at your destination."

"Ah. Thank you sir." Although he didn't really understand. "So this is Dia - ... That alley?" It didn't really look like a magical alley. He had imagined it to look fantastical with magic everywhere in sight, but this was just a common street, with a few ordinary houses and a rather old and shabby pub.

"No, but we are standing in front of the entrance." He looked around, but saw nothing resembling an entrance to a magical area. Of course, with magic being magic, he had no idea what to look for. Regulus, noticing his searching gaze, continued. "This pub, mister Potter; the Leaky Cauldron. Muggles will see an abandoned and broken-down building. We, however, see a... Less broken-down building."

Regulus smiled at him. "Before we go in, mister Potter, I have a question for you; how much do you know about Riddle and your role in his demise?"

"Ah..." Caught off guard, he wondered what to tell him. The truth, he decided. After all, he'd spend at least seven years in the magical world, and probably a lot longer. Especially if his aunt was right about him being some kind of hero, which he privately doubted.

"Well, ehm, Riddle wanted to stop the bigotry against norma - Ehm, muggles?" Regulus nodded at his questioning look. "And he wanted people to be equal and happy and wealthy..." He trailed off. Regulus nodded again. "And, I... I killed him?"

Regulus gave him a sharp look. "Technically, you are correct, mister Potter." He started, ignoring the last statement-cum-question. "And that is why so many people followed him. But his methods... He brutally murdered whole families. He used terrible muggle artefacts to rain down fire, to blow up streets, to destroy everything in his path. He's a madman. He slaughtered hundreds of innocents, he unleashed hordes of depraved monsters upon us, he threatened to reveal us to all muggles, which would have caused many more millions to die... There's no end to his horror."

Regulus took a deep breath, sporting an expression of immense terror and grim determination on his face. Harry, meanwhile, looked a bit nauseous. Noticing that, Regulus continued.

"I'm sorry, it's not really a children's tale, mister Potter. I should have warned you. But it's important that you know these things, especially for you. You defeated him. You saved us all. The British magical world would worship you, if it knew you're alive. Yes, mister Potter," he continued gravely. "The world thinks you died ten years ago, with your parents. Imagine our surprise at discovering you are, in fact, very much alive." He smiled kindly, before adopting a more serious expression. "People will not start worshipping you just yet; only I and a select few others know you're alive, and it's kept secret with utmost care. We'll pretend you're just an ordinary muggleborn - a magical with a muggle mother and father - and nobody will recognise you. I strongly advise you to play along with this; your kind of fame isn't entirely desirable. But when you enter Hogwarts, the people will know, and you should be prepared for that. You're a hero, mister Potter."

"But... I didn't do anything!" His face had progressively grown more troubling, and frankly, a bit horrified. He didn't want to be a hero. He had been the weird one for ten years, at home, at school, everywhere. And now he would be the weird one out again.

"But you did, mister Potter. The most commonly accepted theory is that your parents fought Riddle to a standstill, but that a spell gone wrong caused you all to die. Fiendfyre, perhaps, as the whole neighbourhood burned down. But now that we know you are alive, one has to wonder what truly happened. Many will want to interview you, or even study you - especially that scar looks very interesting... Like a curse scar."

He instinctively let his hair fall over his scar. It had always been such an odd thing, marking the right part of his forehead with a perfect X. A freak scar, as his aunt and uncle would say. Now, those words had gotten a wholly different meaning. A freak scar, indeed.

"Again, when the public will learn of your existence, everyone will want to get to you know. Some will want to befriend you, purely to boast about it. Others will practically worship you. Yet others will try to influence you, for political or ideological goals. And some few... Some few will want to harm you, or even kill you."

He did a double-take. Kill him? Whatever for?

"Mister Potter, it is vital that you understand the severity of this situation. You may have imagined fame as power, or as wealth, or as the freedom to do whatever you please," He certainly had done no such things. "But while fame like yours does grant great power, so too does it create great threats." Regulus paused a short moment, deciding what exactly to tell.

"You may have defeated Riddle, but his followers live on. Even at Hogwarts, you will meet the sons and daughters of them. I'm not saying they will harm you, mister Potter, but you should be aware of their past. After all, everyone will be aware of yours." Such pessimistic sentiments held no place in this conversation though; it might scare off the boy.

"Not to worry though, mister Potter. The protections of Hogwarts are greater than any other; my own uncle is in charge of the security, and believe me, there is no safer place on Earth for you to be." He was tempted to mention how he had lived here, with his relatives the Dursleys, for ten years while everyone thought he had been dead - which obviously was a lot safer - but Regulus continued.

"Speaking about Hogwarts, I do believe this letter is for you." Regulus handed him a huge and ancient-looking letter, made of not-paper. Parchment, he guessed.

--- --- ---

HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY

Headmaster: Horace E. F. Slughorn
(Master Potioneer, Wadjet-Class Guardian, Overseer of the Council of Ophioneus, Grand Rod of Asclepius, Hippocratic Award (two), Apollo Medal of Mastery)

Dear Mr. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.

Yours sincerely,
Regulus A. Black
Deputy Headmaster

--- --- ---

HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY

UNIFORMS

First-year students will require:

Three sets of plain work robes (black)
One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)
One winter cloak (black, with silver fastenings)

Please note that all student's clothes should carry name tags and should not contain any anti-transfiguration or anti-transformation enchantments, magical resistance amplifiers, colouring charms, or any other enchantments not explicitly approved by the headmaster. Enchanting clothes before being sorted is strictly forbidden.

COURSE BOOKS

All students should have a copy of each of the following:

Arithmancy
Mathemagic: The Gate and Key by Roger Bacon

Astronomy
Ad Astra Per Aspera by Anatolios Akrufius

Charms
The Standard Book of Spells: Grade One by Miranda Goshawk
Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling

Combat Magic & Training
The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection by Quentin Trimble

Culture & Etiquette
Magical Manners & Malicious Mannerisms by Maxim Fopa

Geology & Zoology
The Curious Cradle by Nai Iyaunina

Healing
Anatomical Analyses: An Inside Perspective by Mondino di Seziorena

Herbology
One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllida Spore

History
Compilation of Myth & Legend by Cassia Draconis
Before History by Mides Palatina
Foundations of Magic
by Semel Alavanpit

Latin
De Lingua Latina by Victoria Rolands
English-Latin: Via Nova by Nathan Charleson

Muggle Studies
The Other: A Sociocultural Guide by Erik Outo

Potions
Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger

Sports
A Short Summary of Sports and Sportsmanship by Paige Plaisie

Transfiguration
A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration by Emeric Switch

OTHER EQUIPMENT

One Ollivander-certified wand (Ollivander's Wand Shop can be found at South Side 382, Diagon Alley, London)
One cauldron (pewter, copper, or brass, standard size two)
One set of phials (glass or crystal)
One telescope (certified as a proper telescope by the Stargazer's Guild, Burlington Summit-Beyond-The-Clouds, London)
One set of brass scales

Students may also bring, if they desire, one of the following pets (crossbreeds excluded):

Cat (including Grade I and Grade II magical cats)
Owl (will be subject to the Eeylops-Fronsac Treaty of 1884)
Rat
Toad

Please note that all pets should be registered as such at the ministry and that a student could be asked to prove him- or herself being capable of caring for a pet (especially with higher-grade magical pets). Upon enrolling Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and when not on a break, ownership of any and all pets transfers to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry holds no responsibility over any pets and retains the right to punish students whose pets disrupt the school, end up as accidental potion ingredients, or any other clauses outlined in the Ever-Updating Book on Treatises, Rulings, Regulations, and Other Laws Pertaining Hogwarts.

Parents are cordially reminded that first years are not allowed to bring their own broomstick per the Reasonable Restrictions for Safety and Study.

Yours sincerely,
Lucinda Thomsonicle-Pocus
Chief Attendant of Witchcraft Provisions

--- --- ---

That was a lot to take in. The subjects, for one, were so fantastical that Harry needed a few moments to let it sink in. Charms, transfiguration, potions... But also combat magic? That sounded exciting! And Latin, which sounded hard and boring. Surely they would be taught in English, not in Latin? But he suspected the title of the Astronomy book was Latin. Did that mean Astronomy would be taught in Latin? He hoped not.

He couldn't dwell much on the issue though, as he read about wands and cauldrons and, ew, rats and toads. For a short moment, he wondered if all witches would have warts on their noses, but Regulus, seeing that he was done reading, motioned for him to follow. Regulus strode into the pub, and, wondering why people would bring a broomstick to school, he awkwardly folded the letter, put it in his pocket, and followed Regulus.

The pub was weird, to say the least. Medieval, definitely, looking at the walls and furniture. Light grey stone walls with cracks here and there surrounded them, sometimes smooth, sometimes made of grey or red-tinted bricks. A few walls were almost completely covered by portraits of... Things. Moving things. Men and women moved around, sometimes even abandoning the picture altogether! Curious objects and strange devices sparkled, hummed, or preformed other interesting actions. Dark brown wooden tables of varying sizes were scattered around, with a variety of different chairs accompanying them. Half a dozen or so people were present, creating a welcoming noise.

"Ah, master Regulus, what can I do for you?" A voice suddenly piped up next to them. Harry, mesmerised by all the moving pictures of imposing wizards and alien devices, was jolted out of his stupor. Next to Regulus, a small and balding old man had appeared. He reminded him a bit of Bilbo Baggins.

"Nothing Tom, I'm just passing through here, introducing a new muggleborn to our world." Replied Regulus, grasping Harry's shoulder.

"I see. Good luck then, master Regulus. Young master, be most welcome in this new world. Feel free to stop by later; I am always at your service." Tom skidded off again, while Regulus pushed Harry towards an exit, leading to a courtyard.

--- --- ---

"Very interesting." Sneered a man. "But the Potter fortune is even more interesting." The gathered Blacks didn't even blink, so used were they to his attitude - although Sirius did scowl at him. He was Cygnus Pollux Black, also known as Cygnus Black the Third, or, to his unending annoyance, Moody. Indeed, Cygnus was moody. As well as sarcastic, cynical, and more often than not, utterly incapable of empathy.

He had about enough of the sob story about Sirius and the Potters that had been going on for the last thirty or so minutes. Wild speculation about Riddle's followers assassinating the boy, combined with hysterics about the boy having lived in the muggle world with nobody knowing. Nothing useful was discussed, such as the political ramifications or the vast Potter fortune. As such, he had decided to take charge of this conversation at last.

"Yes, the Potter fortune." He stated again, stressing the last two words, annoyed at the lack of response. "Inherited by Sirius, the boy's godfather, under the presumption that the whole line had died out. We can probably win a court case if the boy decides to demand his fortune back, but -" He paused a second to glare at Pollux, who had muttered 'good'. Of course Pollux would want to keep the whole fortune, bloody kleptocrat that he was.

"But, that would be stupid." He smirked at Pollux. "We'd drive the boy away from us right into the hands of Riddle. He's been raised by muggles, head full of nonsense about equality without understanding the first thing about our culture, our traditions, and everything that 'equality' would entail." Foreseeing the inevitable arguments Pollux would bring up, he added a last sentence to his monologue; he was a very direct and to-the-point, after all.

"Yes, Riddle killed his parents, no, I'm not willing to take the risk." Cassiopeia sagely nodded, as he knew she would.

"The stars agree." She uttered in a hoarse voice. Nonsensical drivel, he would have said in the past, but he had developed a certain respect for Cassiopeia and her... Talents regarding astronomy and divination.

"We don't need the money anyway." Orion berated Pollux, who had already opened his mouth to protest. "But a political alliance with House Potter... Its sudden re-emergence has massive political ramifications. Wizengamot seats. Uncollected debts. Old vows and oaths. And young mister Potter is - or will be, very soon - a celebrity. His influence and political capital will be immense; the masses will follow him through thick and thin, if he so desires. With him backing us, those bigots solely dedicated to worshipping Malfoy are done for."

"Ah, so, we bribe the lad? Which child of eleven doesn't want unlimited riches?" Commented Pollux, already thinking of the massive amounts of profit he'd make if his businesses were backed by Potter.

"No." Came Cygnus' biting snarl.

"No!" Came Sirius' angry shout.

"No." Came Orion's calm response, who continued to explain. "We offer him his fortune, yes, but it stays under our control. He'll be tied to us, dependent upon us. We won't exploit him; we'll - well, we'll be his family!" Orion suddenly had a rather exciting idea. "We'll send Sirius to Hogwarts, say, you like Quidditch, we can fire Rolanda - Hooch - and hire you!"

"Well -" Started Sirius, apparently unsure about the proposal.

"Every young man likes sports, as did James Potter, I recall, so young mister Potter will, in all likeliness, like it as well. This is the perfect opportunity for you two to grow closer! Mister Potter will want to know everything about his parents, and he'll be absolutely delighted to find out he has a magical godfather. You - and us - will be his first, true family." It was very rare indeed to see Orion this excited.

"Don't forget the muggles." Andromeda reminded them, but slightly scoffed as she did so. Ever since finding out Harry Potter was very much alive, the Blacks had delved into his life, and what they had found out wasn't pretty. He wasn't a spoiled brat, nor a worshipped prince - in fact, he was altogether unaware of his magical ancestry, and while not abused, it was clear his muggle relatives merely tolerated him, instead of accepting or - perish the thought - liked him.

This was probably a good thing, because a spoiled, naive, and idealistic Harry Potter could very well end up as a peaceful alternative to Riddle, employing his fame to utterly destroy traditional magical society. On the other hand, having experienced inequality first-hand, he could seek to prevent this from happening to others. It was pure guesswork, and really, he was eleven years old; there was time enough to shape him into a proper wizard. But House Black had fallen so far since a decade ago, they had to capitalise on this unprecedented gift.

Narcissa chuckled lightly at Andromeda's comment. Marius, the squib lawyer who had ever so grudgingly been accepted back into the family some years ago, looked a bit offended. Cygnus and Pollux both brought up the Potter fortune again at the same time, glaring slightly at each other as they did, and Orion motioned to Sirius that they'd discuss things later.

"So, it's simply." Started the gruff voice of Cygnus. "The Potter boy is with Regulus now, in Diagon Alley. They will go to Gringotts, where Regulus will withdraw the necessary money for this shopping trip. Undoubtedly, the boy will ask if he has money himself. Regulus will explain about the inheritance and mention Sirius, if he hasn't done so already. The boy will want to meet Sirius, and will probably want his money back. So, guess which newly appointed Sports teacher will conveniently be enjoying Fortescue's ice cream as the pair walk by? The boy will surely agree with our most generous offer of allowing him to use the Black vaults." He rasped his throat.

"Now, someone," He pointedly ignored Pollux and stared at Orion. "Will have to arrange the necessary paperwork and the like."

"But -" Pollux spoke up.

"There is no way you are going to monitor the boy's withdrawals and deposits - and undoubtedly take some money for your own private use." Pollux sputtered in reply, but the discussion was settled. As Orion departed, motioning Sirius to follow him, others stood up and began to leave as well.

It had been a useful meeting, perhaps heralding the dawn of a new era. Heralding the return of political acumen, the reacquisition of lost influence, and the reacquiring of former power. They would wrangle society away from that swine Malfoy and his little henchmen, and all because of young mister Potter. A slightly humbled Narcissa Black walked out of the door. Similar, but far less melodramatic thoughts, ran through Cygnus' head too. A rather scary head to behold, sporting a grin of anticipation. The future looked a lot brighter than it did mere weeks ago.

--- --- ---

So this was Diagon Alley. A huge street, with no end in sight, chock full of all kinds of people, decorated by all kinds of fantastical magic and the weirdest buildings he had ever seen. This was better than anything he had expected or imagined, better than any theme park or fantasy movie he had ever seen. Really, words nor pictures did it justice. Diagon Alley, wow!

He could have spent hours just watching all the magic so casually displayed, watching all the people happily doing their shopping - or not so happily, in some rare cases, or in fact, not people at all, in even rarer cases - but after about half a minute, Regulus gently pushed him forward.

The huge street rolled downwards, and quickly, he was immersed into the crowd, losing all sense of direction. Regulus kept a hand firmly on his shoulder, to prevent him getting lost. He didn't even think of asking where they were going; there was just too much to see, and he only had two eyes. Suddenly, they heard an angry roar through the crowd, originating from a store with cauldrons, phials, and a plethora of indescribable tools.

"GET OUT OF MY STORE!" A man almost literally kicked two red-haired boys out of what appeared to be his store.

"But sir,"

"We only want a jo -"

"Must I call the aurors, WEASLEYS?" The last word was shouted out loud, as if it was a terrible curse word, or perhaps a call for help. Probably both. The reaction was immediate; people rushed over to help the irate man - or rushed away, appearing to be fleeing for their lives. And some not only appearing to, at that.

"We're sorry!" One of the boys screamed in blind panic, before being hit by one of the half dozen spells lighting up the air. The crowd had reacted quite efficiently. In a second, both boys - twins, apparently - lay stone cold on the street. A few moments later, three men in auburn yellow cloaks appeared. Apparated, Harry thought. They shouted something about a Magical Law Enforcement Patrol and promptly took the two boys with them. Mere moments later, everything was back to normal and nobody'd suspect anything had happened.

"What was that?" Harry asked in awe.

"Weasleys." Spat Regulus, pocketing his wand. "Perhaps the best known supporters of Riddle. They're a huge family of redheads, dirt poor and obsessed with muggles. The parents are in Azkaban - prison - but the seven children are living with various carefully selected families, so that they may be reformed into proper purebloods. Yes, they're purebloods, if you'd believe that - purebloods are those whose parents and grandparents are magical." He was a bit shocked, listening to Regulus' rant. So these red haired people were his enemies? They didn't seem dangerous...

"Come, we're nearly there." Regulus said a bit harsher than usual, perhaps upset at the two Weasleys. He decided to drop the matter; Regulus - and the whole crowd - would protect him. Then he remembered nobody knew he was Harry Potter, and he stopped worrying.

In the distance, a towering building made of white marble loomed over the surrounding buildings. Engraved on the balcony were the words 'GRINGOTTS BANK'. His mind froze. How could he have been so stupid? They were on a shopping trip, they were going to buy all kinds of things for Hogwarts - but buying things required money, money he didn't have.

"Ehm, sir... I don't have any money..." He mumbled. Regulus didn't respond, but he saw Regulus' cheeks turn into something resembling a slight smile. A few seconds later, having found a quiet alcove, Regulus turned around.

"Mister Potter, you have nothing to worry about." Regulus said with a kind smile. "Hogwarts has a trust fund precisely for people who don't have the money to pay for their education, although using this fund is only allowed as long as one's grades are sufficiently high. Others may borrow from Gringotts; the bank you undoubtedly just saw." So he didn't have to worry about money, that's good. He sighed in relief, but Regulus wasn't done yet.

"But you, mister Potter, are the heir of House Potter. Your father, as an Auror, and your paternal grandfather, as the head of the Auror Office, have amassed quite the fortune. Then there's the dowry of your paternal grandmother, who was a Black, and we Blacks are one of the wealthiest families in Britain. Lastly, there are the donations, gifts, and rewards, sent by admirers throughout all of Britain, to thank you for defeating Riddle."

"But they thought I was dead?" He asked in confusion, forgetting to ask what an 'Auror' is. Why would people send something if there was nobody to receive it?

"Yes. And therein lays the problem." Regulus misinterpreted his question and adopted a graver tone. "We thought all of House Potter had died. You, your family, everyone. Per your father's will, every possession of House Potter transferred to his best friend; your godfather, who is, as I mentioned before, my brother."

Technically, that wasn't entirely true, but since every other person named in James' will had been dead (Harry, for example), missing (Pettigrew), or turned traitor (Lupin), Sirius was the only one with any claim to the Potter fortune. It had been a rather exciting and drawn-out court case, but the Blacks - that is, Sirius - had won, and had thereby gained control of all monetary and physical possessions of House Potter, as well as any other possessions.

"As such, we have granted you access to our own vaults, considering part of the money and artefacts residing there should be yours. We are busy trying to find out what exactly is yours, and what isn't, so that we may put it back in one of the Potter vaults."

A lie; tracking down these things was as trivial as counting to three, especially for goblins. He hoped the boy would forget about it, so that they could keep monitoring his transactions. In fact, he was pretty sure the boy wouldn't remember nor care about it very soon; not after seeing the huge amassment of wealth stored into the Black vault. 'Free' access to that would trump any desire for a private vault.

"So, mister Potter," He finished with a smile. "There is absolutely nothing for you to worry about; you can buy everything you wish. In fact, you are one of the richest persons in this world."

--- --- ---

Gringotts was huge, beautiful, and scary, Harry concluded. After climbing a few stairs, the life was scared out of him as he came face-to-face with what he now knew was a goblin. He almost ran through the bronze doors in front of him, with a bemused Regulus following him. Regulus caught up to him as he paused to read the text engraved on the next set of doors, silver ones this time:

Enter, stranger, but take heed,
Of what awaits the sin of greed.
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors,
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware,
Of finding more than treasure there.

"It's a challenge." Regulus said knowingly. "The goblins are nothing if not thorough and persistent; nobody can steal anything here, but should someone succeed, he should expect a very short and very exciting life. Goblins are a warrior race at heart, which is why they've been put in charge of our banking system; what better way to use their ferocity than by letting them make us all - and themselves - filthy rich, ripping apart any thief or opponent they can find? The Goblin Wars that happened in the past have more than convinced us of the need for amicable relations between our races."

Harry was unsure if he liked going into a building controlled by such a hostile race of non-humans, but he was left little choice as Regulus opened the silver doors. They ended up in an absolutely massive and breathtakingly beautiful room. Harry spent a moment trying to find a golden set of doors - after all, after bronze and silver comes gold - but quickly gave up, in favour of admiring the room.

It was huge, cloaked in shadows, with candles casting pale orange light throughout the complex. The largest chandeliers Harry had ever seen - admittedly, that didn't mean much - more and more resembled glowing balls of bright orange and gold, the longer he kept looking at one. Magic. But these light sources wouldn't have helped much, if not for two huge, oval shaped windows, that appeared to let in the sunlight - except for the fact that they were brightly white and quite opaque. None the less, rays of bright and white light illuminated the room. They allowed one to see the walls, full of intricately carved patterns - runes? - and expertly crafted golden decorations.

Lined in long rows across the room stood various desks, where perhaps two dozen goblins per desk busied themselves with scribbling on a plethora of documents. Regulus was already busily discussing something with a goblin at one of the desks, when Harry hurried over to him, abandoning his previous position in the middle of the doorway.

"Ah, mister Potter, I was just telling Rogbok here that you're authorised to use the Black vaults." Said Regulus, drawing Harry into the conversation.

"Quite. We have the papers, including an extra key. Sign here." Rogbok spoke in a bored voice and indicated an empty space on one of the few pieces of parchment lying around.

"Put your thumb on it, mister Potter." Said Regulus, noticing Harry's confusion. Harry did so, and felt a weird, warm, and tingling sensation. When the goblin signalled for Harry to remove his thumb, he saw the words 'Harry James Potter' on the parchment, neatly written in blood-red ink. Or...

"Is that my... Blood?" He asked, a bit horrified.

"Yes. Here is your key. Same as before." Rogbok remained exceedingly bored as he pointed at a prism. Harry gingerly put his thumb against it, watching as the prism turned bright red, before melting away after a few seconds, leaving only a key behind.

"We will go to our vault now." Regulus told Rogbok while patting Harry on his shoulder.

"Of course. Cutaxe!" The last word was spoken into some kind of crystal, embedded in the desk. Moments later, another goblin marched in sight. "The Black vault; 536." Rogbok said, before pointedly ignoring everyone.

"Come." Spoke Cutaxe, marching off to a dark, iron gate. It automatically opened itself, but didn't seem to serve much purpose; only a deep and dark void lay behind it. Harry and Regulus stopped just past the gate, while Cutaxe shuffled towards the very edge of the ledge they were standing on. After mere moments, however, a railroad and some kind of crossover between a mine cart and a scooter shot up from the void, stopping just in front of the ledge. Cutaxe took place at the centre seat, while Regulus and Harry sat down in the two adjacent seats.

"Hold on tight and keep any limbs inboard; the dragons always get feisty when an arm falls down." With a nasty smirk, Cutaxe jammed a crystal - or perhaps a lantern - into the cart. An instant later, the world had moved. It took a second for Harry to realise that the cart was actually moving at... Suffice to say, a very high speed. Along a tiny railroad with all kinds of twists and turns, with only magic preventing the cart from falling into the endless nothingness below. The steering wheel was left untouched by Cutaxe, who didn't appear to be doing anything besides looking bored. It seemed pretty unsafe - or in other words, very dangerous. It was totally awesome!

All to soon, to Harry's liking, they had to leave this magical roller-coaster, in favour of one of the many caves, ledges, and stealthily hidden pathways far underneath Gringotts. Regulus mumbled something about paranoia, and Cutaxe suddenly looked like a child in a candy store.

"You will lead the way." Regulus told Cutaxe, who frowned before pulling a peculiar object out of a bag. It could be anything from a symmetrical trophy to an hourglass to weird looking weights. Harry didn't feel particularly safe here though, and decided not to ask what the object was. As such, the eerie silence was only disturbed by three pair of feet following the crooked pathway, as well as some rather frightening roars every few seconds.

"Dragons." Whispered Regulus. "The Black vault is very highly guarded; we're a paranoid bunch." Dragons? Wow! Magic became more awesome with each passing second!

After passing through three shimmering barriers with unknown purposes, navigating through a labyrinth full of disappearing pathways, intangible floors, and illusionary walls, and coming across quite a few traps, such as a pit of smouldering lava and a chamber that fell apart to reveal floating, green, heat-seeking fireballs, they arrived in a large, dark, circular room.

A moment later, Harry was genuinely scared. A fierce roar shattered the silence and drowned out all other sound, but mere moments later, this roar turned into a howl of pain as Cutaxe frantically waved around the weird object. An object that produced the deafening sound of thousands upon thousands of pickaxes cutting away valuable gems, hammers smashing against stone walls, and swords slashing through the bodies of many a warrior. Harry screamed, unprepared for this assault on his ears, but Regulus quickly cast a spell upon the both of them that prevented them from hearing anything. Cutaxe flashed a nasty grin.

Onwards they trekked, past the dragon, clearly visible now. Clearly mad, too; smashing its head against the floor and crying out as if being tortured. Ah... That was what the goblin's device was doing... It was torturing the dragon, somehow! Harry felt sick, all of sudden, and refused to look at anything but his shoes, trusting Regulus' hand on his shoulder to guide him.

Soon, however, Regulus nudged him to look up as he lifted the spells; they could hear again. They were safely past the dragon, apparently had walked past two trolls - Regulus told him - and were now in front of the Black vault. Cutaxe took the two keys - Harry's duplicate and Regulus' original - and stroke the vault door with his finger before somehow inserting the keys into the door, even though Harry saw no obvious keyhole. Nothing happened, however.

"Special security measure; there is no indication whether the key works or not. One can walk through the door, but if the key fails to work, one would be trapped inside and eventually starve to death." Explained Regulus, as he walked through the door. Harry suddenly realised the magical world - or the goblin world, at least - was cruel, bloodthirsty, nasty, evil, and a whole slew of other bad words. He followed Regulus, though.

And then he blinked. Whereas he had come from a dark place, where the black had only been accented by shadows of a slightly different shade, he was now in a place where glittering beams of gold were interspersed by bright reds, yellows, greens, blues, and everything inbetween. Wealth unimaginable lay in front of him. Hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of bronze, silver, and golden coins. Piles full of all kinds of gemstones, and not ordinary ones either; even if the magic wasn't clearly visible, the size of some of them was a dead giveaway to their magical origins. Then there were a plethora of strange artefacts of power and ancient tomes of wisdom. The vault was huge; the Blacks were obviously a large and very wealthy family.

"Put your hand on this gemstone, mister Potter." Regulus pointed at a marble pillar next to the vault's entrance, with a blood red crystal embedded in it. Again, Harry felt the warm and tingly feeling as he put his hand on the crystal. He recognised it was withdrawing blood from his body, probably to identify himself. The feeling ceased after the crystal flashed white, and he removed his hand.

"The vault will now recognise you, and will allow you to use it without needing to go down here all the time." Regulus told him. Ah, that made sense; who'd spend half an hour trying to access a vault every time he or she'd want to buy something.

"Now, the golden coins you see are Galleons, the silver ones are Sickles, and the bronze one Knuts. 29 Knuts are 1 Sickle, while 17 Sickles are 1 Galleon. A Galleon is about 100 Pounds, making a Sickle about 5 to 6 Pounds and a Knut 20 Pence."

He watched as Regulus grabbed about two dozen Sickles, which seemed rather excessive to him, given what he had just been told. Judging by the amount of golden coins, the Blacks were very rich anyway; they could obviously afford to spend a lot of money on school supplies.

"The next time you need money, mister Potter, you can ask a teller to retrieve the money for you." Regulus said as he walked back out of the vault, Harry trailing behind him. Back through the door they went, past the trolls - they stank and were ugly, but seemed perfect for the role of 'dumb brute guard' - past the dragon, past the trap filled labyrinth, and finally upwards with the mine cart.

--- --- ---

They were back outside, underneath the blue sky, taking in the warmth of the yellow sun. He wasn't sure whether he liked Gringotts and its inhabitants. Yes, it was cool, all the traps and the mine cart roller-coaster and the dragon, as if he was on the set of an awesome fantasy movie... But it was a twisted, dark kind of cool. Not designed for coolness, but for catching - and brutally murdering - thieves. Regulus had been right; the goblins seemed like a rather bloodthirsty race.

Really, did everything revolve around killing people here? First Riddle, and now something as normal as a bank turned out to be a glorified slaughterhouse. However, he supposed it was just another facet of this exciting magical world; after all, with magic, things that would normally be quite dangerous could easily be healed, he guessed. Remarkable really; he hadn't even been here for an hour, and already he felt at home. Of course, he still stared in wide-eyed wonder at all the stores and people - and everything else - but he felt a sense of belonging. Soon, he would be able to do magic as well. For once, he could hardly wait going to school.

School. Hogwarts. To his understanding, most magic involved a wand. Sticks made of various types of wood with a varying length, containing a varying 'core' - whatever a core was. Wands could look old and ugly, as if they were just a twig picked up from the street, but they could also be intricately designed, resembling a miniature version of powerful looking staffs. However they looked, a wand lay at the basis of any magical education, and indeed, a magical's power. Take away the wand of any random wizard or witch, and chances are he or she could do nothing but run away.

Of course, this wasn't entirely true, for wands weren't prevalent throughout the whole world, as Regulus had told him. Regulus seemed to know quite a bit of history, talking about how Romans had introduced wands to the world, but how other forms of magic - runes, staffs, sceptres - continued to be used in other parts of the world.

Whatever the case, Hogwarts used wands, and as such, they were walking towards a wand shop owned by someone called Ollivander. Fittingly, the first destination of their shopping trip. Soon, he would have a wand. Soon, he would be a true wizard.

--- --- ---

"- No, that isn't due for another decade or so I daresay. ... Yes I am quite sure, I shall manage. ... Your caring about my well-being is most unbecoming of you, my old friend, is something amiss I should know of? ... Oh, yes, understandable indeed, I do lose track of the time these days, as is expected. ... Yes, I do tend to ramble - part of the personality of course; I do have an image to keep up - but still, still. ... Ah, yes, yes, well, I shall keep you informed, and - oh, I must go now, customers have arrived it seems - do give Petra my regards."

That is what someone with unnaturally well-developed hearing could have heard, had he or she been near Ollivander's Wand Shop. A most unnatural building - but then again, what is 'natural' or 'normal' when magicals are involved? The building looked broken, as if it would collapse any moment. Like a small house, put on top of another small house, both patched up countless times. A decaying rectangle of wood and concrete. Inside, it didn't look much different; dark, gloomy, dusty, and the residence of quite some spiders, rats, and flies. Cobwebs decorated the broken walls and ceiling. It was all part of the experience though; what eleven year old didn't enjoy a rotting building that would be perfect for use as a haunted manor? A creepy old man - Ollivander - handing them their very first wand was just, for lack of a better word, awesome!

Normally, Ollivander would be creeping in the shadows, to scare the unsuspecting young children entering his domain. This time, he had been talking through the floo. Still, the green floo-fire fit in well with the haunted manor theme. Harry Potter liked it, at least.

"Mister Potter! My, we all presumed you were no longer amongst the living! And look at you now! I daresay you are no Inferi, or my sight has sharply declined! So come, come forward, let me measure you, let your magic flow - set foot on the path of wonder!"

Harry cast a very unsure look at Regulus, who simply nodded.

"He's a bit eccentric, yes. But he's a master in wandlore and the world's best wandmaker." Regulus assured Harry. It was only then that Ollivander noticed Regulus.

"And you must be young Regulus Arcturus Black, if I remember correctly. Twelve inches long, made of vine wood with unicorn hair as its core - I trust that it has served you well?"

Ollivander chuckled, as if it was preposterous that the wand hadn't served Regulus well. It had, indeed. But British society had always exaggerated its deeds and accomplishments, and it was highly unlikely that Ollivander really was the single best wandmaker of the whole world, as was claimed. However, it fit the stereotype of an eccentric genius and made sure Ollivander had complete control of the British market for wands. And, to his knowledge, nobody ever complained about an Ollivander's wand, which had to count for something. His attention turned back to Harry, as did Ollivander's, and while still doubtful, Harry hesitantly stepped forward.

"Now, mister Potter, tell me, what is your wand arm."

Harry turned his head around to Regulus, an expression of incomprehension on his face.

"Are you left- or right-handed?" Asked Regulus as an explanation. Comprehensions dawned on Harry's face.

"Right-handed, sir."

"Marvellous!" Ollivander clapped, seemingly excited, but actually causing a tape measure to spontaneously materialise. Apparated, Harry thought, but it was more likely that it had been hidden away in a pile of other trinkets. It began measuring Harry and then flew over to Ollivander, who read the results. Harry stared in awe at the whole scene; he really liked all the magic and theatrics.

"So!" Another clap, and the tape measure flew back to wherever it had come from. "It is time, mister Potter, for a wand to find you! Oh, yes, the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around! The wand that will choose you will make its choice very clear, most probably by imbuing you with feelings of niceness, or perhaps by giving away a show of magic!" Ollivander hobbled away to the back of his store.

He returned with almost a dozen different wands, dropped them all in a messy pile on the floor, and hovered his hand above the pile for a moment before picking one, seemingly at random.

"Here then mister Potter, a fine wand! Not the largest of the bunch, but you're quite scrawny too - and Unicorn Hair would go well with your messy hair, I daresay!" He chuckled, and shoved the wand in Harry's hands, who was unsure whether to be offended or not. "Come on now, give it a wave!"

The fire in the fireplace grew tenfold, nearly setting the whole room alight.

An antique lamp turned on with such bright light that it blinded everyone in the room.

A telescope on the counter was blown away, leaving a lot of white sparks and smoke behind.

Ollivander had fallen over and slowly chuckled, while coughing due to the smoke.

Harry sat dumbfounded and terrified, looking at what he had done.

Regulus stood in the doorway, holding the door half-open as if to flee, observing the scene.

"Yes, very well mister Potter... Suffice to say, this apparently is not the wand for you. Too short, much too short! Such power..." Ollivander trailed of, looking for the pile of wands he had previously assembled, now blasted all over the room. "Mister Potter, try this!" Apparently having found a wand in a dark corner, Ollivander handed it over to Harry.

"But, sir, will -" Harry said with a scared expression.

"No, you have nothing to worry about, mister Potter! It's perfectly fine, no harm done - it's expected! Part of the fun!" Ollivander winked at Harry while extinguishing a small fire that had started to spread from the fireplace. Harry, still scared, gave another wave.

This time, a streak of fire materialised in the air, going wherever Harry directed it with his wand. He quickly threw the wand away, making the fire home in on the wand, and causing a massive explosion when the two collided. The explosion and the resulting fireball did no damage though, which was just as well, otherwise the store might have collapsed. Ollivander hurried over to collect the wand and put it at the counter.

"This seems to be about the right length, mister Potter - but it needs a bit of fine-tuning, oh yes! I wonder, all this fire... Mayhap a Phoenix Feather core would serve you better?"

However, while Harry caused less and less damage - he actually began to enjoy it, instead of fearing for his life - after having tried almost twenty wands, he still hadn't found the right one.

"I wonder... Mister Potter, these common wands have proven to be less than satisfactory. But, I do have a few special wands, all with their own special story. Some, I have collected from great wizards and witches, others were donated to me by grandmasters, and yet others were crafted with extraordinary materials. They are rather valuable - prized artefacts - and so..."

Ollivander waved around and mumbled unrecognisable words. After a few moments, a hidden storage room appeared at the back of the store.

"Here, mister Potter. The Obsidian Rod, forged in the fires of a volcano by a dark lady in Italy. She plundered Europe and North America in search of riches, before her hideout inside the Vesuvius was found and destroyed. She died then and there - but that's a story for another time, I say. Come on now!"

The room became pitch black for a few seconds. When the three could see again, the fire in the fireplace was gone, replaced by a cloud of ash that Ollivander promptly dispelled.

"No, not quite. Then maybe..." He grabbed another wand. "Mhm, I forgot I had this one. Brandtrae, the wand of a medieval Danish warlock - and one of the most accomplished dragon hunters. Very temperamental, but that is what you get when you impale dragons with your own wand." Ollivander scoffed and shook his head, disapproving and not comprehending how anyone could treat a wand in such a way. Clearly displeased, he handed the wand over to Harry.

The moment the wand touched Harry's hand, it began shaking uncontrollably, blasting streams of fire all over the store at random. Ollivander snatched the wand out of Harry's hands and threw it away.

"I daresay not." He said harshly. "Fiendish thing. Never trust anyo -" He suddenly paused. "Say, mister Potter, I do believe I have just the right wand for you. Phoenix feather, eleven inch, and made of holly - see, I was looking for something to go with your temper -" Harry looked offended, but Ollivander took no notice. "- but what if you need something to counter your temper? I daresay holly would work well. And then, there is of course the fact - ..." Ollivander looked unsure, and instead, just handed over the wand to Harry.

It immediately felt good. Warm - perhaps even hot - but a good kind of warmth. Harry found himself smiling, and instinctively waved the wand around, as if the wand was telling him what to do. A shower of golden and silver sparkles erupted from the wand. From his wand. Ollivander clapped, Regulus was clearly pleased that Harry was finally done, and Harry himself enjoyed the most blissful feeling he had ever felt.

Regulus had to ask however: "What fact, sir?"

"Ah!" Ollivander struck a dramatic pose. "Mister Potter's wand contains a phoenix feather, but not just a phoenix feather, oh no. This particular phoenix has been sighted with Riddle, long ago. In fact, Riddle's wand is the brother of mister Potter's wand; both containing a feather of the same phoenix, both sharing the same core with one another." He almost whispered the last few words.

That certainly darkened the mood. The feeling of glorious euphoria suddenly abandoning him, Harry looked at Regulus for guidance. What did this mean? Regulus, however, thinned his lips and slapped some money on the counter, before turning around and leaving the store.

Ollivander smirked.

--- --- ---

Next up were robes and other types of clothing. As the last member of House Potter, as the defeater of Riddle, as a very wealthy and very famous individual, and as an associate of House Black, he should dress appropriately, or so Regulus had told him. Of course, he had to buy school robes - black, so that they could be charmed into the appropriate house's colour - but Regulus strongly advised - if not ordered - him to buy a whole wardrobe and then some.

Normally, Regulus would've advised him to go to Twillfitt & Tattings, which catered more to the pureblood crowd. Of course, the Blacks had their own private tailor and all, but for Harry, it would do. However, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions didn't lie, and while he did need - according to Regulus - expensive dress robes best purchased from Twillfitt & Tattings, he also needed a whole lot of other clothes including school robes. As such, they had gone to Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions.

On the way, Regulus had briefed him about various kinds of clothing, colours, symbolism, etiquette, and many other things he, unfortunately, had already forgotten. Magical society didn't have much in the way of universities or another kind of tertiary education, apparently. Actually, magical society technically didn't even have secondary education, trusting purebloods to homeschool their children before Hogwarts.

Instead, after graduating - or even before - one would generally undergo a tutorship or an apprenticeship. Suddenly, the coloured ribbons he saw on quite a few people's clothes had made sense; they denoted apprenticeships. Orange and gold for rune masters - the gold indicating Gringotts employed them - sky blue with a darker blue triangle pointing up for ward erectors, and so on.

Not that he needed to worry about that for quite some time; he was only eleven years old after all. None the less, he enjoyed these tidbits of information. He now also knew most of his robes - including his Hogwarts robes, which was a recent change supported by both the Blacks and Malfoy, whoever that was - would need the Potter crest on it.

The Potter crest was half brown and half dark red, separated by a diagonal, silver line with the text 'NOVISSIMA AVTEM INIMICA DESTRVETVR MORS'; 'the last enemy to be destroyed is death'. There was a bronze 'P' on the lower, brown half, while the upper, red part contained a Welsh dragon. Apparently, the Potters had originated from Wales, as - how surprising - potters. According to Regulus, the brown represented precisely that - or clay, or earth - but he had no idea what the red represented. Perhaps the dawn.

Regulus had left to buy his more mundane supplies - mostly books - after asking him a few questions, such as what kind of cauldron he wanted. Pewter was cheap but brittle and would get filthy very quickly, while brass was solid and stable, fit for beginners, and copper required more finesse and talent, but in the right hands, could brew perfect potions. In other words, as Regulus had told him, pewter is for the poor, brass for the middle-class and muggleborns, and copper for the proper purebloods.

Regulus advised him to get both brass and copper though, on the off chance that he needed the help a brass cauldron offered. Unlikely, considering that his mother, apparently, had been a natural at potions, but he had the funds to spare anyway. Of course, he heeded Regulus' advice, planning on asking more about his parents when Regulus came back.

Currently, he was selecting his wardrobe, after being measured by Madam Malkin and her flying tape measurer, just like Ollivander had done. Whereas Ollivander's measuring took mere seconds, Madam Malkin was much more throughout, and she measured the strangest sizes; what use could it have to know the length between his knee and his neck? It had taken a few rather uncomfortable minutes - and one time he actually fell, tripped by the tape measurer - but the friendly demeanour of Madam Malkin made him feel at ease, and soon, he had been repeating what Regulus had told him.

Pleased by the amount of clothing he would be buying, Madam Malkin showed him a thousand different robes, hats, shoes, and more, in the span of three seconds. Or, that was how it felt to him, and he had no idea at all what to pick. It didn't help that Madam Malkin seemed to advise him to buy every single thing in her store, saying "This will fit you fabulously, I'm sure!" or "This will look great with your beautiful eyes, my dear!" as she showed him various clothes. Indeed, he was sure that, according to her 'advice', literally every single colour looked great with his eyes.

In the end, he bought... A lot. For one, Regulus had given him carte blanche; unlimited funds. For two, he had no idea what to buy; Regulus would have told him to buy the most classy, stylish, and expensive clothes, he was sure, but he himself preferred something more plain and modest. The easy solution was to buy both - and it made Madam Malkin happy too boot; he wasn't sure how many exclamations of "But dearie, you need this, it's practically made for you!" his very underdeveloped sense of style could handle.

At long last, she applied the necessary charms and enchantments - "A cute boy like you shouldn't ever walk around in filthy robes!" - which of course raised the price even more. On the other hand, crumpling-resisting, filth-repelling, water-absorbing, odour-expelling, and a whole slew of other enchantments sounded nice. Too bad Hogwarts didn't allow those on his normal school robes in the name of 'equality', as Regulus had told him before leaving.

Being the kind lady she was - although his Galleons must have raised her spirits - she shrunk everything and carefully put it all in a bag with glittering, animated, automatically updating ads of her store on it. Feeling like a walking billboard, he waved at the happy woman, and left her shop.

--- --- ---

"Give that to me, mister Potter." A not unkind voice came from somewhere to his right. After a moment of alarm, he recognised the voice as Regulus' and turned around.

"Hello sir." He politely greeted Regulus while handing over the rather obnoxious bag.

"Never walk around with such trash." Regulus advised him, glaring at the bag. "I took the liberty of buying a trunk for you." Regulus continued, pointing to a luxurious looking, metallic black trunk resting against the wall of Madam Malkin's.

"Ehm, thank you sir." He said. Although, come to think of it, this wasn't so much generosity as it was necessity; how else was he going to get his clothes, his books, and all his other stuff to Hogwarts?

"It's an Arculum & Capa, so it has some special enchantments; anti-thievery of course, but also various protection enchantments, both for the trunk and for whatever is in it - although I felt a regenerative bubble wasn't needed - and it has both a feather-light charm and a space-expanding enchantment." Regulus looked at Harry's confused face.

"Nevermind. Just put your wand in this hole." Regulus said, indicating a hole between the handles. He did, and the handles suddenly retracted into the trunk, disappearing. He pulled his wand out, but before he could start wondering about how to open the trunk now, Regulus explained.

"Now, your trunk is keyed to your wand. Just put your wand in the hole to open it in the future, or send a burst of wandless magic through the hole - but that's too advanced for now." Now that was quite awesome. He reinserted his wand in the hole, but immediately pulled it out again as the trunk - quite violently - burst open.

The inside was indeed much larger than the outside. And filled with lots of things; about two dozen books, two (shrunk) cauldrons, a few telescope-like devices, multiple sets of phials, two different scales, and possibly some more. Regulus neatly put his newly bought clothing in the trunk.

"Wow, thank you sir!" He exclaimed. Sure, it was only a trunk, but it was a magic trunk, containing lots of magical things! Regulus smiled at him.

"Now, we've been here for about 90 minutes. As the deputy headmaster, I do have a rather tight schedule to keep, but I do believe I can spare half an hour to buy a treat for you, mister Potter. After all, your return to the magical world should be celebrated indeed. Do you like ice cream?" Regulus didn't even wait for the confirming nod. "You'll love Fortescue's then."

--- --- ---

"It's called a Xanatos Gambit." He spoke as he strode through a long hallway, cloak billowing behind him. As the man next to him, struggling to catch up and slightly out of breath, didn't reply, he sighed and continued.

"What happens if he does get it?"

The man replied after a moment's pause: "He'll acquire immortality, wealth beyond measure, the ability to preform a few dozen rituals nobody has ever preformed -"

"Quite." He nodded curtly and cut him off. "But what would he do?"

"Well," The man started after another moment of hesitation. "He'd seize power and reform the whole British magical world. Many will be killed..." The man trailed off, apparently getting the idea. He beamed.

"Precisely. Many - government officials, powerful heads of ancient families, other important persons - will be killed. Leaving us to do as we please - there is no way a silly stone will help him survive when he'll be up against us, after all." They turned a corner, and for a few seconds, the man was too busy catching up and catching breath.

"But what if he doesn't get it?" He continued.

"Ah, now that would be telling." He flashed a smile both nasty and kind at the same time. "But I'll humour you; either he dies fighting then and there, or... Well, some would call it suicide." His eyes twinkled madly, as if he had just made the best joke ever. One could practically hear the evil laughter. A moment later, he looked every bit the picture of an elderly but grand and wise wizard.

"Needless to say," He spoke again, now in a booming voice, more commanding and absent of humour. "We need the stone. The real one." They stopped in front of a huge door, full of intricate red and golden patterns. The other man took a few seconds to make himself look presentable as well, before replying.

"Oui, I'll inform my master."

--- --- ---

Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour was surprisingly normal and surprisingly small. One would expect an ice cream parlour to be a fantastical, magical place, but it was parlour of only a few square metres, build from an ordinary looking, yellowish kind of wood, with two ordinary lamps hanging from the ceiling. There were a few small tables outside, to enjoy one's ice cream and watch the daily happenings of Diagon Alley.

Upon entering the parlour, however, all that changed. Suddenly, bright, moving disco lights illuminated the room, stick movies and jokes appeared in neon on the walls, loud music that was just a shade away from obnoxiously noisy was played throughout the building, and there probably were a few active cheering wards cast over the establishment. Gone was the small looking parlour, replaced by a huge building filled with pool tables, bowling lanes, a slot machine, and if the sign could be believed, a tropical swimming pool. And everything was decorated with ice cream. Everything. In fact, the bowling balls were made out of ice cream - ice cream that instantly grew back upon taking a bite.

This was amazing. This was awesome. This was magic. Yes, he had thought that a lot of times today, but, wow! Regulus sure knew how to save the best for the last. He'd definitely come back here someday! For now, he ordered the tastiest ice cream cone he could find; vanilla, caramel, and three (!) kinds of chocolate, with chocolate and caramel sauce all over it, not to mention chocolate sprinkles, flakes, toffees, cookies... Of course, this massively defied the laws of physics. And of course, this massively pleased Harry's stomach.

He was guided by Regulus to a table already occupied by someone. Before he could ask whom or why, however, Regulus spoke up:

"Mister Potter, this is my brother, and your godfather; Sirius Black, best friend of your late father." Before he could reply, however, he was enveloped in a bear hug by this new man. This... His godfather!

"Harry..." The man - Sirius - whispered, scarcely believing that the boy in front of him was, in fact, his godson, presumed to be dead for ten years. He was the spitting image of James. James, his lost brother, his best friend, the charismatic man who always did things his own way, who managed to get away with marrying a muggleborn... Who had fallen protecting his family against Riddle. Successfully, apparently; his son was here! Harry James Potter lived!

Overcome by emotion, the both of them didn't say anything for what felt like hours. Eventually, however, they let go of each other. This was the first time Harry could properly look at the man - at his godfather, his family! He resembled Regulus, but he was... Wilder. His hair was longer and not as neatly stylised, for one. His aristocratic features were hidden behind his friendly demeanour, his ever so slightly rounder face, and his relatively muscular build. He was more open, more laid back, and cared less for what others thought of him - at least, if the hug and the tears in his eyes were any indication.

For his part, Sirius saw more James than Harry. Oh, he realised perfectly well that this was James' son, not James himself - but he also recognised part of his happiness came from nostalgia and the subconscious idea that James had been reborn as a kid. None the less, he was happy to see Harry, even if Harry was not James. Although he wasn't merely 'happy'; he was relieved, immensely grateful, and tear struck, too. His godson! The boy who had ridden on his - both human and dog - back, the cause of happiness and joy in a time of misery and despair. Lily's eyes - and oh, how beautiful they were - James' body, and... A strange X-shaped scar on his head?

Sirius gingerly brushed his hand against the scar, but concealed the motion by ruffling through Harry's hair.

"Harry, my boy..." He whispered once more.

"Sir - Siri - Godfa - Ehm, hello..." Came the awkwardly mumbled answer. They both sat down, having forgotten all about Regulus who had wandered off to somewhere, leaving the two of them alone.

"So... I'm your godfather. I- I was your father's friend - his best friend." Sirius started, feeling that he should say something. "Ehm, I'm Sirius Black - Sirius Orion Black - and I'm 31 years old."

"Hello sir." Said Harry shyly. Deciding that this wasn't going to work, Sirius winked at Harry and transformed into a dog, before promptly licking Harry's face.

"Woof!" He barked in a playful tone, but he quickly transformed himself back into his human form. "I'm also a dog." He said cheekily.

Harry silently stared in wonder at the dog-man. A smile slowly spread over his face though, and silence turned into chuckling, which turned into full-blown laughter. Not because it was so very funny, but because... Everything. This was his godfather. His family!

With the ice broken, they relaxed. For half an hour, they discussed all kinds of things, while enjoying all kinds of ice cream. Of course, Sirius told Harry to eat whatever he desired, and Harry, having the best day ever, got caught up in Sirius' enthusiastic attitude, eating himself quite sick indeed. Luckily, Sirius knew a handy charm to cure him - only for Sirius to encourage him to eat some more. They discussed his parents, his family, magic, Sirius' time at Hogwarts, and many more subjects.

Sirius was worried about his aunt and uncle for a multitude of reasons. For one, Sirius was worried they weren't treating him right. It took a few minutes - and Regulus' help, who had suddenly appeared again - but Sirius was convinced not to kidnap Harry then and there. Sure, he had to do chores, and yes, they obviously favoured Dudley, but they didn't beat him, didn't lock him up, and didn't abuse him. He, too, got some pocket money - although less than Dudley - and if not entirely accepted, he was tolerated. His life wasn't full of happiness and joy - except for this one day, perhaps - but neither was it an existence plagued by depressions and hopelessness.

Sirius still insisted Harry should have had a magical upbringing, especially considering his role in the last war; even ignoring the fundamental magical knowledge he had now missed, and even ignoring the alien culture he now would have to adapt to, how could a bunch of muggles keep Harry safe? Regulus interrupted here, stating that he had tested the house and that all was in order, while giving Sirius a warning look that went unnoticed by Harry.

Of course, the Blacks had already run long and very throughout tests on the whole neighbourhood, ever since discovering that one Harry James Potter from number four Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey, was going to attend Hogwarts this year. Nor Arcturus' vast knowledge of ancient Magicks, nor Orion's expertise in defensive magic, nor anyone else - they even brought in a professional warder from Gringotts - could fully explain the results.

It appeared as if number four Privet Drive, and the immediately surrounding area, had been covered in a highly extraordinary magic blanketing field. While that would be unusual enough, this particular field only stopped malevolent magic aimed at Harry Potter. Erecting a field that only stopped malevolent magic - such as the tracking magic that allowed letters filled with bubotuber pus to reach their target - was technically possible. Erecting a field that, on top of that, was keyed to one single person... That was virtually unheard of, and supposedly quite impossible.

Arcturus had theorised it'd require blood magic, if not outright sacrifices. To keep up such a field for a decade would require something extraordinary. Something extraordinarily gruesome. Who had put it there, and how, they couldn't even begin to guess. A secret guardian angel, perhaps, considering it had adequately protected Harry, and appeared to be quite strong still. If a person with less than honest intentions would attempt to harm Harry while he was at the Dursleys, he or she would have to find him first - which was quite impossible thanks to the field. If, somehow, this person knew Harry's address, he or she could still not harm him so long as Harry stayed inside number four. Quite extraordinary indeed.

So, the Blacks had been content with the protections, and they at least accepted - if not liked - his living conditions. That subject had, of course, been broached; now that Harry had met his godfather, wouldn't it be a good idea to move in with him? The answer was a tentative 'no' for now, and an almost definite 'yes' for the future. The Blacks felt it better to introduce Harry to the world at large as an independent person, not as someone already 'claimed' by them; that would give the wrong impression. Everyone was content with this though; Sirius agreed that it wouldn't look well if they more or less kidnapped Harry, whereas Harry himself didn't want to be adopted immediately anyway. Yes, his godfather was positively awesome and the sole link to his parents - besides his aunt - and Regulus had been friendly enough indeed, but really, he needed more than two hours with only two of the many family members to decide these things. Besides, there's a whole school year in front of him, for him to make up his mind.

A third subject had been brought up by Sirius but quickly shot down by Regulus; the Potter fortune. Apparently, Sirius wanted him to know that he had unlimited access to the Black funds and that the Black lawyers would make sure he'd get the Potter fortune back - with interest! - as soon as possible. Well, that was nice, he supposed. Considering he had already begun to see the Blacks - or at least Sirius - as some kind of family, he didn't really care whether he possessed his own fortune or whether he used the combined wealth of the Blacks and Potters. Although he did decide upon revisiting the vault someday, to see what kind of artefacts, books, and other objects were kept hidden underground. Family magic, as Regulus told him, was very powerful and very secret - that he had access to both Black and Potter family magic while both families existed was almost unprecedented.

All good things come to an end, however, and after an emotional hug, it was time to say goodbye to the magical world - for now. And not entirely, of course; he had his trunk, filled with all kinds of magical items. It was during this heartfelt farewell that Sirius unveiled a cage with an owl inside; his birthday present. A beautiful snowy owl gazed into his eyes, as if somehow, she - he instinctively knew she was female - understood he was his new owner. If one believed in it - and with magic, it would be foolish to discard the notion out of hand - one could very well have said some kind of supernatural bond had just been formed between Harry and his new owl.

She was more than a mere snowy owl, even if she was special. She was another link to his family. To Sirius, his godfather, who had bought and given him this magnificent creature as a birthday present. He would treasure her forever.

After a few more instructions; apparently, he'd be picked up at September the first, three PM, to go to Hogwarts - one final gift; a guidebook about owls and how to care for them, as well as food for her - and, of course, one last hug, Regulus grabbed his arm. The last thing he saw was Sirius waving at him, before, suddenly, the world spun around him as he and Regulus apparated in front of number four, Privet Drive. Home. But only technically; practically, he had found a whole new home. A magical one, amidst magicals. And perhaps one day - hopefully? - a Black one.

He waved at Regulus and said goodbye. He couldn't wait to go home again.

--- --- ---

The room was dark, lacking any light source save for the green floo fire. It was night - almost 3:00 - but the room had no windows anyway. It consisted solely of cobblestone, surrounding an empty space of perhaps two square metres. On one side was a wooden door appearing to be taken straight out of a medieval castle. On the other side was a fireplace, the source of the green floo fire illuminating the room. There was also a man, who had his head in the fire, speaking to someone on the other side.

"I want you at Hogwarts, to keep an eye on things. The stars say that it's something of paramount importance, but other readings do not make things much clearer, or so I'm told. Something to do with a devil or such nonsense. I don't put much stock in this divination business, and I can't be arsed to remember everything I was told. But it's a good source. Credible. If she says something is going on, then something is going on."

The man had a gruff and rough voice, sounding like someone part of the brass of a military. Which he, indeed, had been in the past. Sort of. Apparently, the room was a dedicated floo room, not very uncommon in the larger - and older - castles and manors. Everything said through the floo could be heard by anyone inside the room. This was useful for holding private meetings, spying, or simple law enforcement; the floo generally was as secure as any communication method could be, so getting an admission of guilt through these special floo rooms was rather easy. One merely needed to breach the many defences to bug the floo room, which was considerably harder.

"But sir, I hav -" A young, male voice. Common enough to not sound any different than anyone else's voice, and as such, not really recognisable.

"You owe me a favour, so cut your whining. And remember who I am. What power I hold. I don't like threatening you - you're a good guy - but I need you to do this." Stern and firm, but not anymore hostile than his usual voice.

"Yes sir. How do I get in Hogwarts? It's highl -"

"Don't lecture me about Hogwarts, boy. Of course it's highly guarded; I saw to that myself." He grumbled something about stupid people. "You're young and all, you'll get on well with the children. And you've got experience. Didn't you trek through some marsh or something? That'll look good when you apply."

"A magical forest, sir. In Albani - Apply, sir?"

"Yes, that. Was I not clear? There's defence, creatures, duelling - or whatever they're called these days. Do whatever you like. Just get into Hogwarts and keep your eyes open."

"What if they do -"

"You seem to have forgotten who I am again. I could just smuggle you inside, or pressure the staff to hire you. But that'd arouse suspicion. Tell everyone something's wrong. I want to know whatever is going on, and catch them red-handed. See this as an exciting adventure, or whatever makes your heart tick. I don't care, just get the job done. You have promise, boy, you have a drive that could see you make it far in this world. Don't let me down."

And that was that. The room, once more, was pitch black; the green floo fire extinguished. With a 'pop', the man went to bed.

Chapter IV: A New Home, A New House

The past few weeks had been... Different. Upon arriving back home - that is, number four, Privet Drive - his aunt and uncle had spent an hour interrogating him. Despite being dead tired after having spent a long day in an alien world, he had been forced to tell the entire story three times, as detailed as possible, before he was allowed to go to his room.

He had become an expert at predicting his relatives' reactions. For instance, when mentioning Sirius Black, his aunt would widen her eyes and exclaim "What!", while his uncle's eyes would dart across the room, as if Sirius Black would suddenly materialise - no; apparate! The first time, his uncle had also let out a low growl. They weren't at all happy with him having met his godfather, which was sort of understandable, he conceded. In their own special way, they cared for him, and considered him to be part of their family.

He had the foresight to mention nothing about his vast fortune, instead opting to tell that the Blacks had allowed him to use their own funds. This lead to his uncle making a few nasty comments about nepotism and corruption, so he hastened to explain that everything else would be financed by the school itself. He quickly started describing Gringotts' rather nasty policy concerning thieves, to appease to his uncle and put him in a better mood. Indeed, his uncle had grunted in approval upon hearing how thieves could be trapped inside vaults and starve to death.

Sending death glares at his owl and pointedly ignoring everything else, his aunt, at long last, allowed him to go to his room. When Dudley cautiously asked if he could see his 'stuff', his aunt quickly turned around and walked away, but he didn't miss the flicker of surprise and dislike visible on her face. He nodded and went upstairs, Dudley trailing behind him.

Life returned to a semblance of normalcy after that, except for a few things. For one, he discovered Regulus had bought some additional books for him, which he decided to read in full before September the first. Hogwarts: A History was one of them. Another one was A Documentation of Dark Lords and their Downfall, in which he himself was mentioned. Reading up about Riddle - and before him, Grindelwald and Dumbledore - was fascinating. He was unsure how to feel about being mentioned in books; shouldn't that be illegal, given that he had never given his consent? He resolved to look into that at school. Perhaps he could get Regulus to buy him a book on laws.

In A Documentation of Dark Lords and their Downfall, he read about a saint Hedwig, a woman who had ended a decade and a half long civil war in Poland - the Casimiran War - by somehow ending the reign of a dark lord as a mere child. She went on to negotiate a truce with his Hungarian allies, was installed as king - not queen, despite being a woman - of Poland at the age of ten, and made it her life goal to improve the livelihood of everyone. The story struck a chord with him, even though she was aided by her mother, Wladyslaw the White. He may not have a mother anymore, but he, too, had defeated a dark lord while still being a child. A baby, even. He decided to name his owl Hedwig, after this fascinating saint. His owl approved and hooted happily, which instantly lit up his day; he liked making people - humans or animals - happy.

Following Regulus' advice, he had also read Magical Manners & Malicious Mannerisms, a guidebook for proper etiquette and the like. In fact, he spent a lot of time reading his books in his room. As a consequence, he spent less time playing with Dudley or helping his aunt with cooking, cleaning, or gardening. Already, they were growing apart; him being drawn into this wondrous, magical world, them being stuck in their ordinary world. Perhaps his relatives had noticed this as well, because they had given him a mobile phone as a farewell gift. He was sure there were more selfish reasons for this gift, such as being able to contact him without needing to wait for his owl, and not having the neighbours asking questions about an owl frequenting their home. Still, it was a very expensive and useful gift, and he thanked them profoundly, causing his uncle to smile down at him.

--- --- ---

At long last, it was September the first, fifty-nine minutes past two PM. For once, Harry wasn't to be found in his room, reading books about witchcraft and wizardry. For once, he had joined his aunt and uncle in the living room, having sat down on the couch after being told to stop pacing. His uncle was ostensibly watching the TV, yet his eyes were unmoving. His aunt had been reading the same page of her magazine for about ten minutes now; she kept sneaking glances through the window and at the clock. He himself fidgeted with the school uniform he was now wearing. They were all waiting for Regulus to arrive.

The exact same moment the clock turned to three PM, the doorbell rang. Both his uncle and his aunt stood up; the former to open the door, the latter to prepare some tea in the kitchen. They both motioned for him to stay seated.

"Mister Potter, how have you been?" Regulus politely inquired as he stepped into the living room, still wearing his stylish black longcoat and boots. His aunt would have glared at this, if she had been presented. He merely grinned.

"I have been well, sir. The books have been very interesting!" He couldn't fully leave the excitement out of his voice. Or his expression. But he really didn't care.

Regulus smiled back. "Very well. Are you ready to depart?" An excited nod, a 'bye' to his aunt and uncle, and a dozen seconds later, the two stood outside.

"I will apparate us to the Hogwarts Clearing, a large, open place on top of a mountain, surrounded by a forest. All students and their families are gathered there. From there, we will all walk a good fifteen minutes, until we arrive at Hogwarts Castle." Regulus continued. Harry nodded hurriedly. Couldn't they just go already?

"Before we go," Continued Regulus. Could Regulus read minds? "You should know that the Gathering, as it is called, is a great opportunity to socialise. That, in fact, is its primary purpose. Students will be brought in with the most extravagant transportation a family can afford, to impress everyone else. There is a lot of politicking and business done while the students wait to leave - and not only by the family of the students." Regulus paused a moment to figure out what he would say.

"I advised you to read up on etiquette for this purpose. You, as the last of House Potter, are important. And when it is revealed who exactly you are - which will happen at the Sorting, as you could have read in Hogwarts: A History - public perception and your image will be all the more important. Important people will fall over themselves to get to know you. Not 'you' the half-blood eleven years old boy, but 'you' the last of a respected house, and 'you' the saviour of the British magical world. You should behave as such, at least in public."

Harry had nodded again - he knew about the Sorting - but then he realised he hadn't been following etiquette at all. Nodding, for example, was either the sign of wanting to be rid of the other, or of recognising one's vastly lower rank compared to the other. He blushed lightly.

"Yes sir." He said curtly, as he began revising everything he had learned from his etiquette book.

"Very well. Grab my arm" Clenching his trunk in one hand, and grabbing Regulus' arm with the other, he cast one last look at the Dursley's residence. He wouldn't be back until Christmas. And then he was gone.

--- --- ---

They, indeed, arrived in a gigantic clearing atop of a high mountain, presumably overlooking Hogwarts. Hogwarts itself, however, wasn't visible, hidden behind the forest surrounding the clearing.

"I, as deputy headmaster, will be going to the front, mister Potter. We will depart in about ten minutes, once everyone is here. In the meantime, acquaint yourself with your fellow students." With those words, Regulus strode away, leaving Harry alone.

Above his head, flying carriages, luxurious brooms, and exotic birds - or something resembling birds; he'd swear he saw a flying horse with an eagle's head - transported students and family members to the clearing. Around him, other people appeared out of thin air, having apparated to the clearing. There even was some kind of runic circle with green flames inside, that spit out ash-covered people who landed painfully on the ground. It was quite a sight to behold.

"Pardon me, young lord, I couldn't help but seeing your robes sport the Potter crest. I had presumed the house to have died out...?" A voice came from behind him, perhaps half a minute after having been left alone. Turning around, he saw... Class. A prince, possibly. Or an elf. Tall, muscular, standing firmly upright. His expression and stature practically screamed wealth, power, and importance. His white, shoulder-length hair accented his rich and noble face, while his cold and grey eyes revealed a sharp and ever-calculating mind. His hands rested on the shoulders of two very different looking children; one clearly being his son, but the other sporting red hair and freckles.

"I am the last of my line, sir." He nodded solemnly. Deciding he didn't yet want to deal with the fallout using his own name would create - although it was clear this man suspected something - he opted to use his father's name. "James Potter, pleased to make your acquaintance." He struck out his hand, which the other man promptly shook.

"Lucius Abraxas Malfoy, Head of House Malfoy. The pleasure is mine, believe me." The man retracted his hand and pushed the white-blonde haired child forward. "This is my son, Draco Lucius Malfoy, Heir to House Malfoy. He will begin his Hogwarts education this year." The boy had a smug look on his face, as if being introduced as heir to House Malfoy was the greatest honour conceivable.

"Pleasure to meet you, mister Potter. I presume you will be starting your own Hogwarts education this year?" The boy intoned in a refined manner, as if having practised in front of a mirror. Which he had, actually. Harry nodded, and they shook hands. Nodding - and by extension, staying silent - was for those who knew not to interrupt their betters as they were talking. As such, nodding was for the lower-class, and he, as the last of his house, should always reply verbally. But he remembered too late, and before being able to reply verbally, the man introduced the other child.

"And this is my adopted son, Percival Ignatius Malfoy, third year student at Hogwarts."

"Most pleased at making your acquaintance, mister Potter." The boy spoke humbly - or perhaps slightly grovelled? - as he stepped forward, extending his hand.

"Likewise." He responded verbally this time, although he wasn't sure how to address them. Calling them all 'mister Malfoy' seemed a bit weird to him - but then again, so did the whole etiquette nonsense.

"I will be finding the Parkinsons. Why not keep mister Potter here company, boys? Behave yourself in my absence." With those words, the man strode away, the crowd seamlessly opening up in front of him and closing up behind him.

"So, James - I may call you James, right?" The white-blonde asked. Draco. He almost nodded, but managed to stop himself and said 'yes'. "What house will you be sorted in, do you think?"

"I don't rightly know." He started saying, finding it oddly fun to pretend being a stuck-up pureblood. Really, 'rightly know', who'd say that in all seriousity? "I do know the Potters, historically, have been mostly Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors, although almost all of the more recent ones have been in Gryffindor."

"Quite. Of course, as a Malfoy, I will end up in Slytherin." The superiority coming from his voice was clearly perceivable. "Although Ravenclaw wouldn't be so bad." He continued congenially. "You will have to watch out for Hufflepuff, James; a house for boring non-achievers and submissive personalities."

"Thank you. I have heard a hat decides our house?" He asked, which scored him points with Draco, who smiled at him in a pleased manner.

"Ah, a well-kept secret, though not for the upper-class of course. You are correct; the Sorting Hat, once put on your head, will read your mind, personality, and characteristics, and determine the house that best suits you. Originally, it was created by Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor , for those incapable of preforming legilimency. It was used at courts, as truth poisons were easily countered and pensieves were non-existent. Of the dozen or so that were made, only the Sorting Hat remains, an interesting relic from ancient times."

Clearly, Draco loved showing off the wealth of knowledge he possessed thanks to his pureblood ancestry and upbringing. He didn't mind though; all those born in the magical world knew so much things that were taken for granted, but he, as someone raised by non-magicals - muggles - didn't know all these things. He liked being immersed in this culture, learning all the things he should have known already. It made him feel more magical.

"Do you play Quidditch?" Draco asked after a moment's pause. He suspected Draco was burning with questions about his life; where had he been, what's the scar on his head, how come there's suddenly a Potter alive? But of course, Draco, with his pureblood upbringing, recognised it'd be rude to ask those questions right away.

"I don't really know what that is, to be honest. I know it's played on brooms...?" He trailed off. His godfather, Sirius, had mentioned it - apparently, his father had been a 'chaser' on the Gryffindor Quidditch team - but he didn't know much about the sport. He didn't even know what a 'chaser' was.

Draco stared in amazement at him. "But... How can you not know?" He blurted out, before composing himself. "My apologies, I mean no offence."

"None taken." He smiled at the blonde. He could respect good manners, even though he disliked the etiquette and elitism. "Well, I was raised by... Muggles." He let the word roll off his tongue, tasting it. It felt a bit rude and offensive, as if he was talking about an inferior life form. But considering everyone used the word, it was probably his imagination. Besides, people could hardly talk about non-magicals in public; what if one of these non-magicals would hear them?

Draco widened his eyes, clearly perplexed. The Potters, having gone extinct in a sacrificial act to stop Riddle's terror, had survived by pretending to be muggles? "Surely your parents were proper people?"

"They were magical, yes." He quickly replied. He really didn't like elitism and bigotry.

"Good." The blonde flashed him a grin. "Well, the Malfoys are one of the most important and well-connected families. We can help you find your way in this world."

"I'd appreciate that." It would be both rude and stupid to decline this offer.

"Very wel- " Before Draco could continue, another voice loudly interrupted him.

"Hey Perce!" Another red-haired boy shouted from a distance, wearing a thick, grey drape suit straight out of the 1930's. Behind him followed a family of three, intentionally distancing themselves from the boy. A man, woman, and child, all wearing black, modern suits, all walking perfectly in step with each other. They looked positively normal, if not way too formal.

The man sneered at the boy. "Behave yourself, Ronald. This is a public gathering, not a lowbrow pub." The boy - Ronald - stamped on though, invoking a look of disgust on the girl's face. Looking around, he saw both Draco and Percival looking disapprovingly at the boy as well.

"Good afternoon Ronald." Percival spoke up. "And good afternoon to you as well, lord Parkinson, lady Parkinson, miss Parkinson. My father, the lord Malfoy, is looking for you."

"See, boy? Take an example from your brother - you will forgive me the offence of comparing him to you."

"Of course, none taken." Replied Percival. So they were brothers, and both adopted, apparently, Harry mused. He introduced himself, following Draco's example, who had introduced himself after Percival's statement.

A calculating glint passed the man's face. "You will stay here, Ronald. Perhaps you will learn something from these young lords." Pleased to be rid of his son, he turned around. "Come, Pansy." With a last look at Harry's face, the three set off, in search of mister Malfoy.

"How rude." Commented Draco, after the three Parkinsons had left. Harry sent him a questioning glance. "He didn't even acknowledge our introductions and then dumped his son here with nary a goodbye, if you please."

Harry had to stop himself from laughing at Draco's choice of words, but he didn't miss the way Draco had said 'son'; as if it was a curse. Clearly, there was no love lost between this Ronald and Draco. Or between Ronald and anyone; Percival looked exasperated, no doubt because of Ronald's mannerism, while Ronald looked bored. Still, Harry found Ronald's complete lack of pureblood manners very refreshing, in a good way.

"Oy! What's that X on your face?" At least, until Ronald started speaking to him. "Wait, you're a dark wizard? Is this some kind of blood ritual?" The boy blathered on. A sideways glance revealed that Draco was actually considering the option.

"Ehm, you mean my scar?" Harry asked, unconsciously rubbing his scar.

"Ah. How did you get it then?"

"No idea, I've had it my whole life. My family doesn't want to talk about it." And that was putting it mildly.

"Right. Sure you're not involved in a blood ritual?" This boy was just odd. Weird and blunt, and really, quite rude, but there was something nice about him. Harry liked him, surprisingly enough.

"Oh shut up." Snapped Draco, fed up with the nonsense coming from Ronald's mouth. "See, there are wizards, and then there are wizards. Parkinsons are the second-class petite-bourgeoisie. Enough sense to associate with important people and work themselves up to a comfortable life, but it's the blood that matters. Of course, the Parkinsons aren't so bad - long-time clients of my father - but being brought up in their family can't have done much good for Ronald here, considering his blood. Now, Percival, he's an example of proper pureblood upbringing and a testament to the ways of Malfoy."

Wow. And this was the boy who had just complained about rudeness. Even Percival looked a bit uncomfortable at the mention of 'blood' - but of course, he was Ronald's brother, so anything said against Ronald's blood would apply to him as well. Ronald, however, had turned an interesting shade of red, surpassing his hair.

"Everyone knows the Malfoys are dark wizards; your 'ways' are evil and your 'upbringing' is bigoted! Riddle -" Ronald suddenly found himself unable to continue his screaming, courtesy of Percival's silencing spell. Percival looked furious, turning red like his brother had done before.

"Ronald Billius Parkinson! How dare you utter that foul name among respectable wizards such as the Malfoy scion? If you cannot speak politely, then stay silent!" Percival scolded his brother. Draco looked pleased and opened his mouth to say something, but Ronald threw them all a hateful look and stamped away, enraged and unable to speak.

"Well..." Said Draco, eyes following Ronald, who quickly disappeared into the ever-growing crowd.

"I must apologise on behalf of -" Percival began, but Draco waved his apology away.

"Don't worry, we can't pick our blood, after all." After a moment's pause, he continued. "We can, however, pick our acquaintances - how was your first foray into the magical world, James?"

Still a bit surprised by the outburst, he went along with the sudden change of topic. "It was amazing! All the magic, the stores, there's just... Everything is brilliant!" He couldn't contain his enthusiasm. It was amazing.

"Yes, one wouldn't find that with muggles, I'd imagine." Drawled Draco, but he smiled. "Have you really never known about your heritage?"

"No. There were clues, of course - accidental magic - but I had never suspected this. Not until mister Black introduced me to the magical world." At the mention of 'Black', a pensive look washed over Draco's face.

"Mhm, Regulus Black?" Draco clacked his tongue. "The Blacks and the Malfoys are not exactly on friendly terms. Politics." Draco dismissed the issue with the last word, not wanting to drive off his newfound and very important friend. Privately, Draco thought this was an excellent opportunity, having a friend who's in the Black's good books.

"He was nice enough, and he introduced me to my godfather; Sirius Black. They gave me gifts, too."

"How nice. Family is the most important, my mo- father used to say." The slip up was almost unnoticeable. Almost. But of course, Harry didn't press the issue. "It's good that you have found proper family." That hurt a bit, he had to admit. Because, indeed, he had spent the previous weeks being immersed in magic, all alone in his room, instead of helping out in the house or having fun with his cousin. After the short time he had been exposed to this magical world of miracles, already he wondered, what did the non-magical world have left for him?

--- --- ---

The walk from the clearing to the castle took about fifteen minutes, probably helped along by magic; it felt as if walking cost no energy at all. The descent from the mountaintop took them through an obviously magical forest, with an uncountable number of greens, huge plants with petals the size of an adult, bright red mushrooms serving as a tunnel through a particularly thick patch of vegetation, and many more such fantastical sights. An offshoot of the Magic Forest, Regulus had said; while leading the students towards Hogwarts, he imparted tidbits of knowledge to their minds.

Not only the plant life was unusual though; a herd of literal horsemen - Centaurs, Regulus said - passed by, showing off their awesome but slightly scary archery skills. Draco wasn't impressed, as he had once seen a herd of Centaurs performing a magical arrow show, which sounded a lot like a more spectacular variant of fireworks.

Harry spent the walk in Draco's company, joined by Pansy, Percival, Theodore, Blaise, and Daphne - all of whom were Draco's friends. Of course, Draco had more friends - connections, acquaintances - as he learned by listening to the aimless chatter between Draco and his friends. In fact, if Draco could be believed, he had a huge network of extremely useful acquaintances to call upon if needed, stylising himself as some kind of overlord or strategist. Harry inwardly laughed.

Hogwarts Castle was an incredible sight, easily classifying as a world wonder, or so Harry thought. Of course, most people without a magical upbringing would think so. All of sudden, in mere seconds, the castle arose out of a mist with a very slight golden hue, making the castle seem all the larger still, as it suddenly appeared on the horizon. The castle was located on a cliff overlooking a lake, which both looked normal enough, although Regulus informed them of a giant squid and various other magical species living underwater.

To the right was a forest, similar to the one they had walked through. The Magical Forest, Harry suspected. At least, the faraway, northern part of the forest; the farther south one looked, the darker and more deformed the forest became. A cursed, twisted landscape, where greens turned into browns and greys, where magical plants withered and deformed, and where a forest full of life turned into a wasteland. From a lush and vibrant, green forest, to a brown, dying forest, as if a cold winter had swept through it. And from there, to a greyish plain sparsely populated with dark roots, trunks, and bushes, as if colour had been sucked out of this 'forest'. The nearer the forest was, the more ruined the landscape, eventually ending up in some kind of black-purple swirly void, with bright white pinpricks resembling stars in the night. As if the very foundation of reality had been forcibly ripped apart here.

"In front of you, to your right, you see the main part of the Magical Forest - as well as a prime example of the awesome power of magic you can command. Decades ago, students would travel to Hogwarts by an old steam train, presumably to make muggleborns feel more at home. This train would arrive in Hogsmeade Station, which used to be located at the spot where you now see a black void. Grindelwald's and Dumbledore's duel caused this damage. We will further descend and arrive on the road connecting Hogwarts with Hogsmeade. We will follow this road, until we're at the border of the containment zone, where we will travel to Hogwarts Castle by boat."

Regulus paused, his face having a serious expression.

"This containment zone is manned by a variety of warders, curse breakers, and other professional, extremely capable wizards and witches. Each year, they manage to push back ever so slightly the 'chaos of unreality', as they call it. You are not to breach the containment zone and you are not to bother yourself with these wizards and witches. Them failing at their work could - no, will - have disastrous consequences, possibly removing all of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade from the Earth. In fact, should you not wish to suffer horrible mutations or lose your mind, you are not to travel into the Magical Forest at all."

While Regulus was busy making sure everyone sufficiently realised the danger by attempting to look each and every student into his or her eyes, Theodore whispered something in Draco's ears.

"My father says the green parts are perfectly safe, except for some creatures perhaps. The grey part is where... Adverse effects start to materialise." The last five words probably being a direct quote from his father. As Harry had learned during the walk towards Hogwarts, Theodore's father worked at the Department of Mysteries and was an avid collector of books and other sources of knowledge.

"What about the brown part?" Draco asked curiously. Theodore shrugged.

They moved onwards, steeply descending into the forest again at a rapid pace - one of the students tripped and rolled a few metres downwards, but was otherwise fine - until the forest gave way to a cobblestone road. After following this road for a short while, they arrived at the containment zone, which looked blurry and distorted, except for a small arc, the size of a door. A blurry shape approached from behind this arc, but was revealed to be a witch upon stepping through the arc. She greeted Regulus before addressing the students.

"Welcome, students. As most of you will know, this, the Arc, is the only entrance to the containment zone. The whole zone has been excessively warded for your own safety - hence the blurriness - especially after a rogue broom crashed itself right into the middle of the void. You are, of course, not to enter this zone, and it's permanently guarded by wizards and witches such as I. However, higher years will visit this zone as part of certain classes, such as Geology & Zoology or the Dark Arts." She gave a small smile. "Any questions?"

A few questions were asked, mostly about how the landscape looked - generally, there was none; those working inside the containment zone had to create floating platforms or somesuch, which is an incredible drain upon one's magic - and about the duel between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. After a minute or two, Regulus urged them onwards, over a short, shady path to a rather large fleet of small boats

Harry found himself in a boat with Daphne, whom he knew already, as well as a boy and a girl he didn't yet know. Draco was in another boat with Theodore, Pansy, and Blaise. The boy was round-faced and a bit on the chubby side, with dark brown hair. The girl had bushy, light brown hair, as well as brown eyes and buck-teeth. They introduced themselves as respectively Neville Longbottom and Hermione Granger, but didn't otherwise engage in any conversation with Harry or Daphne. The boy - Neville - got a curious gleam in his eyes upon hearing the name 'Potter', Harry noted, but he promptly forgot about it as Daphne said something to him.

Eventually, much like what happened during their walk, the mist gave way to reveal Hogwarts, only this time, it looked more medieval than magical. There was no golden hue, but flickering candle- or torchlight, which looked oddly orange compared to the yellow-white electrical lights he was familiar with. There were no fancy carvings or arcane symbols - in fact, there was nothing at all that would suggest this was a magical castle, on first glance. It looked great, imposing, and quite awesome, to be sure, but he was also slightly disappointed by the rather ordinary appearance. As far as castles can be ordinary, of course.

After a minute or five of pleasant chitchatting and enjoying the sights from their boats, magically gliding over the water at the command of Regulus who lead the fleet, the students arrived at a small landing stage near the base of Hogwarts. They climbed out of their boats, and made way to the castle's entrance. Here, the older students proceeded into the Great Hall, along with Regulus, while the first years were told to wait in an antechamber until Regulus returned.

This antechamber, the girl from the boat - Hermione - informed the others around her, was called the Chamber of Reception, and was used to store the students' belongings during the Welcoming Feast. Draco snorted at her voice, as if she was imparting secret knowledge only she possessed. Others attempted to smarten themselves up, fidgeting with their clothes or hair. The more inquisitive people wondered where exactly the students' belongings were, as the antechamber was rather small, with no obvious storage space in sight. Most, however, looked around awkwardly and worried about what would happen next.

While Draco looked bored and made fun of the nervous mass with Theodore and Daphne, Harry wondered in which house he'd end up, and how this would affect his 'friendship' with Draco. He didn't have long to ponder this, however, as four ghosts flew right through the door to the Great Hall, into the midst of the nervous first years. Pandemonium ensued, predictably, but the ghosts formed a line and merely watched with varying emotions, from friendly to disdainful. A moment later, Regulus entered the room.

"Welcome to Hogwarts." Most of the children fell quiet as Regulus spoke. "In a moment, you will enter the Great Hall, where the rest of the student populace as well as most of the staff is seated. There, you will partake in the Sorting Ceremony; the Sorting Hat will judge your character, and decide of which of the four houses you will become part. Your house will determine your timetable, living arrangements, and often, your friends. Considering your house has such an enormous impact on your future, it would be wise to heed the Sorting Hat's advice." Regulus paused for a moment, before continuing.

"There are four houses, represented by one of the four ghosts here. There is Slytherin, green and silver, for the ambitious and cunning, represented by the Bloody Baron." Regulus pointed at a solemn and quite terrifying ghost, who gave a small nod and continued staring at each and every first year, as if measuring their worth - and probably finding them all lacking, going by his expression. He looked like a noble from a millennia ago, sporting a wig and a sword - but also, chains, and robes covered in blood. Terrifying indeed.

"Gryffindor, red and gold, for the brave and courageous, represented by Sir Nicholas." This ghost bowed in a knightly manner, upon which his rather extravagant looking plumed hat fell off. Worse; his head almost fell off, somehow. He grinned, perhaps a bit embarrassed, and nodded with a small smile, but it was clear that most of the first years were as terrified of him now as they were of the Bloody Baron.

"Ravenclaw, blue and bronze, for the intelligent and inventive, represented by the Grey Lady." Regulus went on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The Grey Lady gave the tiniest of nods and continued focusing on an undetermined spot somewhere behind the students. While she was quite beautiful, having apparently spent much effort on her face and dress, she also seemed arrogant or haughty, as if she knew everything there was to know.

"Finally, there is Hufflepuff, yellow and black, for the loyal and hard working, represented by the Fat Friar." A cheerful laugh resounded through the anteroom, as the Friar - chubby, if not simply fat, dressed as a monk with short, brown hair - made his presence known.

"Ah, new students, how wonderful! Don't be afraid of my scary colleagues; we ghosts have a reputation to maintain, don't we?" The Friar winked, clasping Sir Nicholas on his shoulder before diving back into the Great Hall, straight through the wall. The other three ghosts departed as well, following the Friar.

Harry found himself thinking that Hufflepuff definitely seemed to be the preferable option, based on the ghosts, but also based on his own personality. Regulus continued, however.

"As part of a house, you will be responsible for your house's points. The house with the most points wins the House Cup at the end of the year, a great honour. Points are earned by excelling, but lost by rule-breaking. Perhaps you have seen the hourglasses on the wall of the Entrance Hall, which track the amount of points a house has accumulated over the year. Now then, the time has come for you to enter the Great Hall - form a line, and follow me."

--- --- ---

The Great Hall was... Great. In more than one sense of the word. For one, it was absolutely huge, both in length and in height. The ceiling was an accurate representation of the sky - or so Hogwarts: A History had claimed, but he had never seen a sky as clear and beautiful as this one. Of course, he had never been to the empty highlands of Scotland, free of smog and pollution.

If the ceiling was enough to capture his gaze for a dozen seconds, the Great Hall itself was enough to capture his gaze for a dozen minutes - or more. Torches and candles floated around, creating a cheery light show that reminded him of a medieval disco. Gargoyles holding burning cauldrons were the only constant light source. Besides the gargoyles, the walls were decorated by majestic banners, some telling stories about heroic deeds, others showing family crests or coat of arms. Suits of armour of all kinds were lined up along the walls; some clad in bronze, grimly clutching their maces, while others were clad in iron, calmly watching the goings-on with longbows in their hand.

The hall itself was occupied by five tables. Four simplistic looking, dark wooden tables, were used by the students. Above each of these hung the banner of the House seated there. Ghosts flew around too, some quite scary, and others quite magnificent - such as the golden lion parading over the Gryffindor table, leaving a trail of presumably pleasant fire behind; he saw students warming their hands with it.

The fifth table was more luxurious, as it was used by the staff. In the middle sat the headmaster, on a throne with gems in the colour of the four houses. It was strange, though, that despite the huge size of the Great Hall and the four tables, there were only relatively few students. Perhaps a thousand, he very roughly guessed.

In front of them, a simple stool was positioned, with what he presumed to be the Sorting Hat on top of it.

"Welcome, first years!" A voice boomed through the Great Hall. "I am the headmaster of Hogwarts; Horace Slughorn. And I say, it is time to face the music!" At these words, the Sorting Hat promptly came to life and started singing, of all things. Understandably, quite a few first years jumped out of fright, to the amusement of others; the students' laughs and the headmaster's jovial chuckle was heard through the beginning of the song:

Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find,
A smarter hat than me.

You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat,
And I can cap them all.

There's nothing hidden in your head,
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you,
Where you ought to be.

You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry,
Set Gryffindors apart.

You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true,
And unafraid of toil.

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind.

Or perhaps in Slytherin,
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means,
To achieve their ends.

So put me on; don't be afraid,
And don't get in a flap,
You're in safe hands - though I have none,
For I'm a thinking cap!

"Excellent!" Cried the voice of the headmaster through the applause. "Now then, Regulus, the Sorting Ceremony!" The headmaster rubbed his hands together in an excited manner. Regulus, meanwhile, had picked up a long piece of parchment from somewhere, and started calling out names.

"Abbot, Hannah - come over here, sit down, and put the Sorting Hat on top of your head." Nervously, a blonde girl half-ran towards the stool, blushing furiously. The Sorting Hat encompassed her whole head, instead of resting on top of it, but after a few moments, the Sorting Hat shouted 'HUFFLEPUFF' in a loud and clear voice. The girl handed the hat back to Regulus, and made her way to the table of cheering students, decorated with yellow and black.

That was basically all there was to it, giving Harry time to further observe his surroundings and fruitlessly try to calm down his nerves. He noticed that practically all of the people he recognised went to Slytherin, except for the girl and the boy from the boat - Hermione and Neville, if he remembered correctly - who both went to Gryffindor.

At last, Regulus called out 'Potter, Harry', and the reaction was instant; looking at the table of Slytherin, he saw Draco turn his head towards him with inhuman speed. Various teachers audibly gasped, and loud cries of shock were heard throughout the whole Great Hall. Somehow, perhaps aided by magic, Harry managed to ignore this and confidently walk towards the Sorting Hat. Just before it fully covered his head, he thought he heard someone call for silence. Then, true silence - the kind of silence that just doesn't exist anymore in most of the world - enveloped him, and his vision turned black.

--- --- ---

"Mhm... You are a difficult one, mister Potter..." A deep and hoarse voice resounded in his head. He felt the voice, actually, like a breath of fresh air, but then inside his head. Come to think of it, the insides of his head tingled, sort of, but perhaps he was imagining it.

"Hello, ehm, mister Sorting Hat?" He awkwardly thought. He felt a vague sense of amusement, probably coming from the Sorting Hat.

"Greetings. Your personality is... Interesting. Loyalty, and the determination - the courage - to do what is right. Principled. Faithful. Headstrong. Stubborn. Hufflepuff or Gryffindor." The voice paused, as if taking a breath.

"As a principled person, you dislike manipulations, trickery, and deceit. You value honesty. You are about the very opposite of a self-serving and selfish person. You do not swear by cold logic or rationality, you are too emotional for that. However, you do like learning and knowing things for the sake of knowledge - Ravenclaw - and you do have a desire to prove yourself; on your own merit, not on that of your name or your fame - Slytherin. None the less, you won't do well in Ravenclaw nor Slytherin."

The hat paused again. Harry felt that this was the opportunity to argue or to make his own preference known. To his limited knowledge, Hufflepuff was the most ridiculed house, seen as weak and inferior. Bigotry. For one fleeting moment, that made him want to choose Hufflepuff. He also felt Hufflepuff was more in line with his own character. But he didn't want to lose the 'friendship' of Draco or some of the Blacks, and his parents and godfather had been in Gryffindor.

"I'd prefer Gryffindor, sir." He thought hesitantly.

"Yes, that would be best." The hat agreed contently. "You are understanding and empathising. Caring. Willing to do what is right. Those are good qualities. But be careful, do not become too selfless nor too self-sacrificing. And do not trust blindly, either. Those are your potential pitfalls. Some people will try to use you. Be yourself, watch out for your own interests, and live a happy life. In GRYFFINDOR."

The last word was shouted out loud, and the Gryffindor table erupted in cheers louder than any he had heard before. He even heard chants such as 'we've got Potter!' resounding throughout the Great Hall. It felt very surreal really, but this childish excitement of having a celebrity presumed to be dead amongst their midst was infectious. He was too happy to care about the effects of his fame or of his name. He was just happy. A feeling that enveloped his whole mind, as he felt the Sorting Hat leaving it. He gave the hat to Regulus, who gave him a small smile, and he happily moved towards the table full of red and golden decorations. Gryffindor. A majestic, golden lion paraded up and down the table, roaring mightily, as if it was welcoming him.

He had been fully accepted into the magical world now. He had been sorted. Into Gryffindor. His new home. His new family. He shook hands with the people around him, laughed at their enthusiasm, and positively beamed as he sat down to watch the rest of the sorting. He couldn't wait for this new chapter of his life to start.

Interlude I: Reality Reshaped

I am unsure if it's actually a good idea to put this here. If you choose to read this (and really, feel free to do so, unless you really hate spoilers), you'll gain a wealth of information about the setting of this story. Parts of this will be revealed in the story itself, of course. Perhaps everything, although I doubt I'll go into detail about Europe's geopolitical make-up at the time of Grindelwald, so if you really don't want to miss anything, read this! I did actually once make a map of magical Europe (which is vastly different from non-magical Europe), but I'm unsure if it'd work. Here's a link, but I'm not going to put a date on the map - perhaps just after WWII? - and it's definitely not set in stone:

https://imgur.com/KeUDtxe

Mind you, the map isn't really relevant to the story, so I won't bother you with endless paragraphs detailing every nation beyond what I have done below.

--- --- ---

Decades ago, a Dark Lord known as Grindelwald masterminded a huge war devouring all of Europe. He and his friend Dumbledore were bound to conquer all of Europe, both muggle and magical. They acquired artefacts of immense power, such as an undefeatable wand called the Elder Wand. But it was this artefact that killed Grindelwald, and with him, his dream of a united Europe.

One faithful day, Dumbledore, master of the Elder Wand, betrayed his old friend Grindelwald, and in a duel throughout space and even time, lasting all day and all night, Dumbledore, former dark lord, did what many millions wished for; he slay Grindelwald, and ended his dream. Without the insane-yet-powerful Grindelwald in control, his muggle allies - Nazis - were beaten back in a short time. Apparently, Grindelwald had taken control of the muggle leader of Germany; a man called Adolf Hitler. This possession, however, drove Hitler past the brink of sanity, into the abyss of insanity. And without Grindelwald's support, the mad Hitler collapsed his own empire. Plans for making Hitler a living horcrux were discovered, but they were probably just that; plans. It is speculated that these plans would have failed anyway; Hitler would be stabilised and augmented by the soul of Grindelwald, but he wouldn't keep Grindelwald from dying. 1943, and the horrible war was over.

One is left with one question; why. In the words of Dumbledore himself: "Gellert was a visionary, a man with a dream. And he was smart and powerful enough to make his dream reality. He was a good man, too; who wouldn't want a prosperous, wealthy Europe, united under one leader, free of war, disease, and conflict? Alas, such was his dream, such was not the way it turned out to be. Gellert became mad, consumed in a quest for more power and knowledge. Magic corrupted him, artefacts ruined him... His very soul suffered unlike any other had before. And I knew I had to stop him, for literally nobody else could. And I did. I murdered my friend. I swear you, people, he meant well. We both did. Do, even. Yet I can no longer believe that the end always justifies the means. The whole greater good... It's what killed him in the end."

Some say Dumbledore just didn't want to share with Grindelwald. Whatever the case, Dumbledore certainly is strange, and most agree that he shouldn't be trusted. Indeed, some want his wand to be taken away from him, but Dumbledore is proficient in wandless magic. That, and his wand is the Elder Wand; it would repair itself when broken, and go back to its owner when taken away, unless magically disarmed. Dumbledore refused to be disarmed however, and binding his magic seemed excessive to most. He did, after all, kill Grindelwald.

Dumbledore expressed his desire to teach children. Of course, this caused a massive uproar; Dumbledore, an evil, dark, and frightfully powerful dark lord, teaching innocent and vulnerable children? Was Dumbledore looking to recruit young people, to fill their heads with lies and propaganda? Was he a rapist, a child molester? But if one were to look past these preconceptions, Dumbledore appeared to be a kind man, eternally sad, ever regretting the horrible acts he committed, and extinguished of life. Was this an act? Perhaps.

In spite of vehement objections and even some riots, Dumbledore was allowed to become the gate keeper and caretaker of Hogwarts. Living somewhere in a hidden tower, the student populace almost never saw him, and eventually, the howlers and angry parents disappeared. He was closely watched by headmaster Horace Slughorn, however. Rumours circulate that the two of them were lovers, but those are only rumours.

But life wasn't fine and dandy after the fall of Grindelwald. To explain this, we have to backtrack and look at just how Grindelwald - and Dumbledore, until he turned tables - would have created his united Europe. It relied on the perfect execution of his plans; Germany goes on a rampage (supported by Grindelwald and Dumbledore), leaving Europe too weak to do something about Austria reforming into the Magical Empire - paradise of purebloods - and growing through 'voluntary' annexation. Eventually, Grindelwald's allies - who would mostly be fascist - would resemble this Magical Empire more and more. With most of Europe under his control - and being the most powerful by far - victory was but a matter of time.

Magical Europe looks vastly different than muggle Europe, though.

Magical Italy consists of Roma, the Sicilian Kingdom, Genova (Genoa), and Venexia (Venice). Only the latter hadn't followed its muggle counterpart by declaring alliance to Grindelwald. Instead, Venexia had demanded Dalmatia. This was unacceptable for Grindelwald; the Magical Empire (Austria and much of the Balkans) was the spill of Grindelwald's plans. Besides, Venexia was a small nation that thought itself to be far superior to anyone else. It had always demanded impossibilities and was as idiotic as it was arrogant.

Roma, a power-hungry fascist nation after a coup in 1923, wanted control of the whole of Italy, but was content to let the other magical nations of Italy exist if they cooperated. The Sicilian Kingdom was proud, but very pragmatic. Roma had power, so they'd follow Roma. Genova was the arch-enemy of the Kingdom of Burgundy, ever since the magical Papal States were relocated to Avignon in 1309, because of a Christian-Paganist split. It's not as if they cared much about that nowadays anyway, but it was the reason for the first war, with many to follow, the reason becoming irrelevant. They'd also follow Roma. That left Venexia as the fourth nation of magical Italy. Roma and Genova disliked Venexia - although the money it had brought into Italy was nice - and the Sicilian Kingdom only tolerated it because of Venexia's black market.

So after giving the green light for Roma to conquer Venexia, both muggle and magical Italy followed Germany, and thus Grindelwald. Muggle Portugal became the Estado Novo - the New State, the Second Republic - in 1933, under the leadership of António Salazar. It was corporatist and authoritarian, and close enough to fascism. It supported Germany in establishing a fascist regime in Spain, but didn't form an actual alliance.

Why not, one might ask. Portugal and the United Kingdom were firm allies. In fact, they had been so since 1373, making this the oldest alliance of the whole muggle world. This was the same for their magical counterparts, except that magical nations, generally, are much more resistant to change. So while muggle Portugal embraced Salazar's regime, magical Portugal did its best to remove it, and turned to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom didn't help much, nor could they have; their magical armies were rather weak compared to the Fascist Forces, as they were called.

Many Portuguese wizards and witches fled the country, after it became clear they couldn't 'save Portugal from fascism'. Salazar was a powerful wizard, and his personal army was well-trained. Further, Salazar secretly aided the muggle Francisco Franco in uniting Spain under a fascist government. The Falangists, a Spanish, magical terrorist group, helped greatly in uniting and stabilising the Estado Español; the Spanish State.

Magical Spain was only united in the loosest sense of the word; separatist movements and all kinds of (terrorist) groups held control over large swathes of Spain, and only thanks to Salazar's support and the Falangists could Spain be united, not only de jure, but now also de facto. Salazar, eventually, took direct control of both magical Portugal and magical Spain. Sensing that muggle Portugal was too passive, too meek for his goals, he opted to unite the whole Iberian subcontinent under his rule, and established Iberia Maxima.

With both muggle and magical Italy, Spain, and Portugal at his side, and Scandinavia mostly neutral, Gellert easily crushed France. Sure, their muggle army was good, but their magical army was utterly destroyed by a coordinated invasion from Spain, Italy, and Germany herself. It was imperative to keep the British out of the war, so that Grindelwald could focus on the east front. Magical Britain is naturally isolationist and still has a competitive dislike for France, but the muggle government declared war over the invasion of France. And the influx of Portugese wizards and witches slowly but surely tipped the public's opinion to favour war in magical Britain too.

To dissuade the British, Grindelwald started a terror campaign; targeting innocent civilians and infrastructure with both muggle bombers and magic raids. Death Squads, these raiders became known as. The British were held at bay, continental Europe was under control of Grindelwald, and the newfangled Coalition of Slavic Warlords had no hopes of stopping Grindelwald's march east. The Magical Empire - a simple yet fear-inspiring name - had been established, and especially with Germany doing rather well for herself, victory was assured... But then Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, master of the Elder Wand, betrayed his cause and allegiance, betrayed Grindelwald, and betrayed the Empire.

Being the master of the Elder Wand, one would think this fight wouldn't last long. But Grindelwald was, besides a highly capable warrior, a scientist to boot. A mad scientist, that is; an experimenter, a tinkerer. He and Dumbledore revolutionised magic, and indeed, it's suspected that, without the two, the wizard world of today would have been much more backwards. While Dumbledore enjoyed discovering, learning, and inventing, Grindelwald had a more practical attitude; he enhanced himself beyond any former limits through gruesome rituals. Thus when Dumbledore sealed Grindelwald away in an infinitely small pocket of unmoving time, Grindelwald broke out, and battle commenced. A battle lasting more than 24 hours, involving rituals, clones, illusions, and careless manipulation of space and time. Lesser minds would have gone insane - have gone insane - trying to comprehend this battle. Yet Dumbledore and Grindelwald fought it. And Dumbledore won.

Dumbledore, of course, was too powerful to be contained, to be locked up. The International Federation of Warlocks (IFW) - the 'army' of the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW) - was powerless against him. And he had killed Grindelwald, thereby ending one of the darkest and ugliest wars ever. So Dumbledore, to the outrage of many, remained free, yet carefully watched. Dumbledore requested to become a teacher at Hogwarts, which was promptly denied. But Dumbledore, voluntarily confined - one might say, imprisoned - to Hogwarts for most of the year, was an attractive prospect to the IFW and the ICW. Hogwarts herself, and her headmaster Horace Slughorn, were capable of watching over Dumbledore, as much as anyone could, if not better.

While nobody really is certain of what happened to Grindelwald, Dumbledore claims he's locked up in Nurmengard. Nurmengard itself being sealed away in a pocket dimension. The most likely theory is that Dumbledore used a combination of the Mokeskin Enchantments, the Undetectable Extension Charm, and the Collapse-Prison Charm, tuned up to eleven. Whatever the case, Grindelwald is a non-issue. And Dumbledore became safely locked up in Hogwarts, becoming the gate keeper and caretaker, but always working from the shadows. Some wonder if Dumbledore truly is at Hogwarts, because next to nobody has ever seen him. which might be for the best, really.

Under Horace Slughorn, a progressive wizard with an open and keen mind, favouring knowledge and learning, gladly incorporating all the new and exciting magic uncovered by Dumbledore and Grindelwald, Hogwarts flourished. The Academy of Magic in Wales lost many of its students, now only attracting those who want to see a Common Welsh Green - a dragon - in real life. The Oxford-Cambridge Magical University was the place for any wizard or witch desiring a throughout education in economics, management, and other such things. Now, with Hogwarts having re-installed these courses, rumour has it the University is going to close its doors. Only the Irish Frodleikr Fjall hasn't seen a dramatic decrease of students. Frodleikr Fjall isn't really a coherent name; 'frodleikr' meaning 'lore' and 'fjall' meaning 'mountain'. It was established by the Vikings, and mainly focuses on seamanship and water elementals.

But while Hogwarts flourished, not everyone who graduated did the same. Take, for example, young Tom Marvolo Riddle. An orphan, abandoned by his muggle father who had been fed love potions by his magical mother. She promptly died upon giving birth, leaving Tom all alone in an orphanage. This orphanage, then, was destroyed in 1933. Dumbledore himself - and possibly a few of his followers - had come to raid an underground potion's laboratory owned by Horace Slughorn, said to have invented Bibemperius. A bottled variant of the Imperius curse, this would be highly useful to the two dark lords. Something went wrong though, and by the time Slughorn arrived at his laboratory, Dumbledore had long left and a magical shock wave had utterly destroyed the laboratory, as well as the orphanage above it. With Tom's orphanage destroyed, Tom was left in the hands of two ordinary muggles; Rufus and Ross Parilis.

These muggles, however, were rather poor, although they loved their adopted child like most parents would. They sympathised with the socialists and communists, and this all greatly influenced Tom Riddle. No longer was he the abandoned, hated child, who none the less was more powerful, more special, and more worthy than his peers - and even elders. No, this Tom Riddle was loved, disliked discrimination and racism, and thought it to be unfair that some had so much, while others had so little. Yet nurture doesn't completely overcome all of nature; he still had the brilliancy and ruthlessness of the old Tom.

In 1938, Tom entered Hogwarts. Sorted into Slytherin, he was a caring, friendly boy, always willing to help his peers. He was also brilliant, a genius, really. He envisioned a world free of bigotry, poverty, corruption, and all-around negativity. And he had the brains and willpower to make this vision reality. Alas, during his fifth year - 1943 - his life took a turn for the worst. Just as the school year had ended, the legendary duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald commenced.

It began with Dumbledore and Grindelwald battling at King's Cross Station. Not wanting to risk civilian causalities, Dumbledore apparated into the pocket dimension through which the Hogwarts Express travelled, seeking to collapse this dimension and trap Grindelwald in what could best be described as a broken, half-existing space-time continuum.

The only problem was that the Hogwarts Express had already left Hogsmeade Station and therefore had entered the pocket dimension - and with the train inside it, reinforcing its stability, the pocket dimension couldn't collapse from the inside. Dumbledore, realising his mistake, apparated back to King's Cross Station. Considering the only entrances and exits of this pocket dimension are King's Cross Station and Hogsmeade Station, this seems like a logical decision.

It's just too bad that King's Cross Station was blown up in the ensuing duel. Both the muggle and magical parts, and including the entrance of the pocket dimension. The pocket dimension deflated and collapsed, like a huge balloon with a tiny hole in it. The Hogwarts Express was propelled out of it at a speed faster than sound, and thundered right through the streets of London before crashing to a halt. Hundreds of wizards, witches, and muggles were killed, including about 40% of the students on board of the train. And including Tom's parents.

They didn't die instantly; his mother found herself without most of her legs, and his father's side was crushed and torn apart, but they were alive when a bruised and battered Tom ran out of the ravaged Hogwart's Express. They were also alive when Tom begged a passing Mediwizard to heal his parents. And they were long enough alive to hear the reply, too. That they were just muggles, that there were much more important people to heal, like wizards and witches. And then they died.

From that day on, Tom Riddle became a vehement supporter of muggles, muggleborns, magical creatures, and everyone else who wasn't part of the pureblood elite - everyone who had to endure racism and discrimination to some degree. Of course, he had always disagreed with the casual discrimination, but now it had killed his parents. He had always been an outsider in Slytherin, because of his half blood status, his tolerance, and his Hufflepuffish character in general. Yet now, with Tom going on a crusade against this discrimination, tensions rose to a new high. Not even a month had passed, after returning back to school, and Tom Riddle had relocated to the Hufflepuff common room.

Tom had friends in all houses, although not many Slytherins stayed loyal to him. Still, he had a large group of friends, growing even larger now that he was a figurehead preaching against the discrimination and bias so prevalent in the wizard world. He was still his friendly, polite, and helpful self, yet he was cold - and later, even cruel - against those who discriminated. He was also extremely powerful, for underneath his friendly face was a sharp mind, the mind of a genius. Tom Riddle was very much a mastermind, and some, who have a rather black-white view, debate whether he truly had any friends at all. Perhaps he was cultivating followers, they suggest. It has to be said, however, that Tom Riddle had the uncanny ability to get whatever he wanted.

Tom graduated with excellent marks, and entered the outside world. Thus started a darker chapter of his life. First of all, Tom had to get money. As such, he sold a few inventions and helped a friend start up a potions shop (for which he, in return, got a share of the monthly revenue). He also used his knowledge of both muggle and magical economics to quickly raise a good amount of money. It was, however, not exactly legal. That didn't bother him really; he was just playing the market like so many before him. None the less, after researching his ancestry, he discovered that he was probably one of the wealthiest persons to ever live, and stopped his money-making scheme.

Indeed, as it turns out, the half blood Tom Riddle, was heir to one of the most famous wizards of magical Britain; Salazar Slytherin. A man widely known to be evil, to hate so-called mudbloods, and to call for the extermination - or at the very least, segregation - of all non-purebloods. A man who built Hogwarts, and who was driven away from it, leaving behind a terrible monster to finish the cleansing of Hogwarts, as legend goes. Salazar Slytherin, the very antithesis of Tom Marvolo Riddle.

With his new-found wealth, Tom, cunning and sharp of wit, entered the arena of lies, of forked tongues, of deceit, treachery, and, some few times, assassination. Politics. Lord Slytherin, barely an adult, a plaything for the elite of magical Britain. He couldn't hope to stand against these giants with their experience and connections, with their vast amount of followers, carefully tied to them by magical contracts and oaths of fealty. This, indeed, would become Lord Slytherin's downfall.

Oh, it must have been an epic moment; the entrance of a young man, cloaked in one of the most expensive cloaks, carefully crafted specially for him, coloured black, silver, and green, with typical Slytherin decorations. Head invisible, shrouded beneath darkness, and a silver staff shaped like a snake radiating pure power - and closely resembling the staff the future Lucius Malfoy would carry. Emerging from the darkness, upon announcing his presence, he was met with cheering and vows of loyalty, so exhilarating and addictive was the power - the magic - radiating from this imposing being.

But this all ceased the moment he announced his views. Suddenly, he was a mere boy getting in way over his head, spouting nonsense about equality. Why, they were the political elite, the ones with the power to mercilessly crush whole families. And all of them, of course, purebloods. What a ridiculous notion it was, to grant power to virtual slaves and serfs, worth barely more than house elves? What good would their power be if there was nothing to rule over? Being pure of blood instantly set one apart from the rabble, the underclass, for those with pure blood held power - and fully deserved so, too, considering, on average, the top 10% of British wizards and witches consisted solely of purebloods. They obviously knew best. Let the common man work, get drunk, and die, not achieving anything of note whatsoever. But without the rule and guidance of the upper class, anarchy would fall, and the eventual extinction of all magic would be inevitable.

Preposterous, really. What did this stranger, this mere boy, think? How arrogant could one be? Nearly everyone silently agreed. Yet politics called for realpolitik. And the political battlefield had long since been dominated by the Triple Alliance; the Conservatist-Traditionalist-Purist Alliance. And wouldn't it be fun for the Equalists, or for the Progressists to be in charge for once? Wilbert Philippe thought so too, and as presiding Chairman of the Communists, he alone welcomed Lord Slytherin in their midst.

A few days later, the political arena had been turned upside down. Equalists, Liberalists, and Communists, supported tentatively by the Progressists and a large faction of independents, had broken the Triple Alliance's hold on power. This was only possible thanks to a remarkable number of Traditionalists defecting to the Progressists, and the fact that the Imperialists refused to cooperate with anyone else. None the less, Lord Slytherin was seen as a prodigy, a hero, and perhaps even a messiah, by many of the Communists. He, and he alone, had turned the tables around.

Wilbert Philippe didn't take much notice of this undercurrent of feelings though. Wasn't he the elected Chairman of the Communists? He had the mandate to carry out his plans now. His plans, not Lord Slytherin's plans. But Lord Slytherin was... Different. He attracted people towards him, managed to convince even the loudest nay-sayer of saying yes, and radiated both power and promise. After only a few weeks, the Communist Party came together and, under heavy protest of Wilbert Philippe, voted Lord Slytherin in as the new Chairman.

Preposterous! For one, there was no precedent; a Chairman was elected every five years and couldn't just be voted out of office! And secondly, Lord Slytherin stylised himself as an aristocratic lord, the enemy of the working class, the antithesis of the Communist Party! Thus started a political deadlock. The old Triple Alliance wasn't powerful enough to accomplish its goals, but the Communists suffered from infighting. Indeed, the faction supporting Wilbert Philippe even staged a raid on Slytherin's vault in Gringotts. Most of them died, and Riddle, disgusted, left the political arena for good - together with those Communists loyal to him.

Political power slowly seeped back into the hands of the Triple Alliance, although the Progressists and Equalists would see a slow but steady increase in power over the coming decades. The Communists had, for all intents and purposes, collapsed, but a tiny core kept the party on permanent life support. Nothing concrete is known about Riddle during these times, but we can accurately predict his thoughts; 'if those bigoted idiots won't listen to the pen, why, perhaps they will listen to the sword.'

The years went by. Riddle's power grew phenomenally, and really, there wasn't anything extraordinary about the occasional person going missing - although the disappearance of the whole household of Arthur Weasley did raise a few eyebrows. But then, more important people went missing. People with power and influence. People affiliated with the Purists. People openly espousing bigotry. Investigation after investigation turned up nothing, and slowly but surely, an atmosphere of fear materialised above the people's heads like a permanent, dark cloud. Especially when Conservatists, Traditionalists, and anyone not completely supporting an end to bigotry began to be targeted too. Like a creature from the night, Riddle struck, unseen, swift and silent, but deadly all the same.

Riddle tried to both kill or otherwise silence any opposition, as well as to intimidate the rest into executing his schemes. He often worked through proxies; nobody could be trusted. Meanwhile, relations between the House of Black and the House of Malfoy had been deteriorating further and further, and the government was completely unable to fight Riddle. How could they, when nobody even knew Riddle was behind all of it?

Eventually, it was Orion Arcturus Black who extended the hand of friendship to the House of Malfoy. This symbolic ceremony - for it was undoubtedly a political move discussed first behind closed doors - took place in the Wizengamot, and marked the beginning of a new stage in this war. The government had failed. Time for these two powerful Houses to take matters into their own hands.

The old Triple Alliance of Conservatists, Traditionalists, and Purists, lead the fight against Riddle, but they were backed up by the Imperialists, large numbers of Progressists, and quite a few Equalists and Liberalists. Many preferred a peaceful solution over a violent one. By initiating violence, Riddle hadn't endeared himself to the world at large. Only scant days later, Riddle finally revealed himself as the mastermind behind all of it. He demanded that sole control of all governmental functions would be handed over to him. He demanded an end to violence, but more importantly, an end to bigotry.

He was ignored. Violence would go on, although Riddle's numbers increased massively with a huge influx of muggleborns, some half-bloods, and even a few purebloods. Two more unexpected factions fought for him too; creatures such as vampires, werewolves, or snakes, flocked en masse to him, and even muggles were eager to fight for their rights. The latter faction introduced a plethora of tactics, tools, and weaponry, scoring great successes for Riddle. But the augmented Triple Alliance now had a concrete target; Tom Marvolo Riddle. The war moved away from assassinations in the dark, towards duelling and open war in broad daylight. Both sides fought hard, and both sides suffered immensely.

The stalemate could very well have lasted for years, had Riddle not paid a visit to the Potters. There, in the anticlimax of anticlimaxes, he died. Why or how, nobody knows. The Blacks were one of the first to be at the Potters' residence, where they found a lot of powerful and strange residue magic, as well as a fire devouring the whole neighbourhood. The Potters had all died; James, Lily, and Harry Potter. They had been very rich, but had decided to stay away from politics. Interestingly enough, Lily Potter had actually been Lily Evans, a muggleborn. None the less, James Potter had been a friend of Sirius Black, and Sirius confirmed that the Potters were firmly on the right side; against Riddle.

In one tragic night, all that had been left of the Potters was wiped out. They had become heroes now, for in that same tragic night, Riddle, too, was wiped out. Why Riddle targeted the Potters in specific - and why they had all died - remains one of the greater mysteries of these times. Rumours, all unlikely, some ludicrous, range from time travel to prophecies, but nobody knows. What is known is that, for some reason, the Potters had relied almost completely on the Fidelius. Why had they not stayed in their ancestral home, why had they moved to this almost defenceless manor? Why had they entrusted a filthy werewolf with their secrets? A werewolf, Remus Lupin, who had betrayed them to Riddle. A werewolf, who was now rotting in Azkaban, if not dead already. Good riddance, said many; the Potters were the people's heroes now.

And thus the war ended in an absurd manner fit only for fairy tales. Reality, as they say, is often stranger than fiction. The war was over now, at the cost of many hundreds - thousands - of lives. Everything could go back to normal now; people celebrated and feasted, bigots freely ranted against the subhuman, Blacks and Malfoys could hurl insults at each other again... And ten years later, a certain child could go to Hogwarts. A boy, thought to be dead. A boy named Harry James Potter.

And though all would view this as an auspicious event - their saviour, returned from Death's doorstep! - some few people saw it as a prelude to darkness. The war had ended when the Potters had ended. Now, a Potter was back. Was the war, then, back too? 'No', they said, and that was that.

'Yes', said a clique of very wise men. War would begin anew. And they would thrive in it.

--- --- ---

The Government and the Political Parties of 1991

https://imgur.com/gg1yikP

28% Conservatists
24% Progressists
15% Traditionalists
13% Equalists
11% Purists
6% Liberalists
2% Imperialists
1% Communists

Conservatists want to keep the status quo. They aren't led by any House per se, but the vast majority of wizards and witches identify themselves with this party. It could be regarded as the base upon which many other parties are built, and is one of the more fluid and flexible parties - as well as the largest. New politicians often adhere to this party, and if a politician denounces his oath of fealty to one of the Houses, he or she often finds himself in this party.

Progressists, led by the House of Prewett, care for knowledge, research, and, indeed, muggle technology. The latter position has caused them to lose quite some potential followers, but the Prewett family as a whole refuses to cede. Where the Traditionalists care about the research and discovery, the history behind it, and respecting the proper rituals, the Progressists are more rash, and like to tinker and experiment with their research, to see if it can perhaps be improved. And while the Traditionalists are purely focused on magic, the Progressists are highly intrigued by muggle technology, too. It's a typical Ravenclaw party, with a brush of Gryffindor, as careless experimenting and tinkering could easily lead to one's death.

Traditionalists, led by the House of Black, care about traditions, and to a lesser extent, magic. Ancient Runes, Ancient Rituals, and Old Magick, long lost knowledge that should be rediscovered. Traditions, rituals, and etiquette are very important, not only because it is required of an upper class man - or woman - to behave according to his class in public, but also because many traditions and etiquettes originate from old magic, rituals, and rites. Paganistic elements and references to gods of ancient pantheons play an important role in the life of a Traditionalist. Traditionalists aren't necessarily supportive of blood purity or conservatism, and, indeed, they're all for the research and advancement of magic and the endless pursuit of knowledge, which is rather contradictory to the Conservatists. However, the vast majority of non-purebloods knows next to nothing about the history of magic, and don't know much beyond the basics taught at Hogwarts, which means Traditionalists see them as boorish, barbaric, and dumb. Traditionalists could be considered an intellectual elite, often foregoing work straight out of Hogwarts, and instead travelling the world or taking advanced lessons in various subjects.

Equalists, led by the House of Bones, strive for equality. Originally, this meant equality for blood and even races. Purebloods, muggleborns, centaurs, all would be equal. This made the party basically dead on arrival. Under Jonathan Bones, however, there wouldn't be a push for equality for more races, rather, there would be a push for equality before the law. Thus; a pureblood couldn't walk away scot-free while, had this pureblood been a muggleborn, he or she would've gone to Azkaban. A secondary position is that the dementors of Azkaban should be abolished, and that Azkaban should become a proper, ordinary prison. While still small, thanks to Jonathan's efforts, the party has definitely grown.

Purists, led by the House of Malfoy, care about blood purity. Openly by some, and secretly by many, regarded as a shallow and arrogant party, they are rather small, arrogant, and egocentric. They vastly overestimate their own importance, too; caring about the purity of blood is the norm, there's no need for a party specially made for that purpose. However, the Malfoy family, while small - and sometimes ridiculed for having French origins, not being as pureblooded as many others - is shrewd and not blinded by ideology, contrary to what one would think based on their party. Thanks to realpolitik, a large amount of alliances - albeit mostly with minor Houses - money, and intelligence in general, the Purists are more influential than what would be expected.

Liberalists, led by the House of Brown, want freedom. Absolute freedom of speech, for one. The freedom of a democratically elected government, too. The freedom of not caring whether one is black or white, magical or not so. The freedom to choose one's own path in life, to not be entrapped by pureblood etiquette and societal norms. The freedom of migration, so that others can move into British society and experience its joy. And so on. As such, the Liberalists are an interesting mix of Communists and Equalists. They were more powerful than both, until they followed the Communists and added another freedom to their manifesto; 'freedom from government'. The moment the leader of the Liberalists turned his party into anarchists, the overwhelming majority left the party. And although this has long since been reversed - the Liberalists don't want to abolish the government anymore - the party never really recovered.

Imperialists, led by the House of Blishwick, are similar to the Purists, in that they, too, think pureblooded humans are well within their rights to lord over the rest. But where the Purists are internally focused - on Great Britain - the Imperialists seek to spread this ideal to the outside world. Slavery is perfectly fine, the military should be much larger, and a totalitarian - or fascist - state is desirable. So long as they, the Imperialists, are in power of course. One of the most well-known issues of this party is the complete removal of the goblins of Gringotts, to give wizards and witches their own gold back. That, and the annexation of the Reservations and Nightshade, as well as Unionist Iceland. The core of this party is rather small, but people flock to it in times of war or dissent.

Communists, led by a Chairman, want equality for all. This party is the only party that has elections. Instead of being founded by a House, Jose Scartages, the first Chairman, made all members swear a binding oath to be loyal (when it comes to politics) to the current Chairman. Every five years, a new Chairman is elected by all members of the party. They all give their own twist to the party's politics. Originally, the party wanted equality for all humans and creatures, and a strong government that should make sure everyone had work and enough money to live a relatively comfortable life. But overtime, these goals became twisted and corrupted, according to many. Eventually, the party stated that the government should just be removed, with the Chairman (and therefore, the party) assuming sole command of the nation, so that he or she could easily redistribute resources and wealth, so that everyone could live in peace and prosperity.

However, Lapland, set up by Russian communists in cooperation with the Fins who wanted to be independent of the Tsardom, became a failed, feudal state. With Lapland being the only example of communism in action, not many were inclined to cast their lot with the Communists, especially not when the party's line changed frequently. The Communists would eventually collapse due to infighting, culminating in a raid on Gringotts. Some conspiracy theorists suggest Riddle carefully manipulated the party, but the majority disagree. It is true though, that those few Communists left generally all joined Riddle.